Christmas Past

Bible Text: Luke 4:16-21, Isaiah 61:1-3 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: A Christmas Carol | Today we are beginning our Advent sermon series titled, “A Christmas Carol”. During this series we will be looking at Christmas Past, Present, and Future through both the lessons of the original story of Scrooge, as well as the stories that we find in Scripture. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was first published in London on December 19th, 1843. Dickens work has since been adapted into other media including film, opera, ballet, a Broadway musical, several animations, and more. One of my personal favorite adaptions is “The Muppet Christmas Carol”, which has been lauded as one of the truest to the original story.

So, this morning we will be starting our series with Christmas Past. For many people, Christmas is a time of memories that continue to impact us every season. It is the memories of Christmas Past that lead us to anticipate the coming holiday and hope for similar happy memories of previous years. In that vein I would like to look back at Christmas Day from a historical viewpoint.

1066, William the Conqueror is crowned the king of England. 1642, Sir Isaac Newton is born. 1758, Halley’s Comet is confirmed. 1776, George Washington crosses the Delaware River. 1855, the first game of ice hockey is played. 1868, Andrew Johnson pardons all Confederate soldiers. 1896, John Philip Sousa writes “Stars & Stripes Forever”. 1914, during World War I soldiers hold a Christmas truce. 1968, Apollo 8 reaches the moon’s orbit. 1977, Charlie Chaplin passes away. 1990, the Internet gets its first test run. 1991, Gorbachev resigns which marks the end of the Soviet Union. 2006, James Brown pass away. 2010, Atlanta sees its first snowfall in the last 128 years.
Each of these events, and thousand more, all happened on December 25th of their respective years. Now some of these had a more substantial impact than others depending on your perspective and opinion. But each of these events impacted the lives of many people in many ways and are part of the history of Christmas Day, December 25th. But what about further back in history? What about the history of Christmas Day before it was celebrated on December 25th? What about the history of Christmas Day before the very first Christmas? Is there a Christmas Past before the birth of Jesus?

Well I know that question probably seems confusing or silly. I mean, how can there be a past of something before it happened, right? But I think if we take a look at Scripture, we can actually find some things that can fit into this reality. There wasn’t a Christmas Day in the normal sense of that idea before Jesus was born, but there are some significant verses in the Old Testament that directly connect to the very first Christmas Day.

In our reading from Isaiah chapter 61 we find the following, “The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself.”

Now I think it is important to note that there has been a practice of looking a passages of the Old Testament and applying them to things in the New Testament after the fact and assuming that they are talking about Jesus. There has been great debate between Biblical scholars as to whether or not this is correct or even appropriate. But in the case of our two passages for this morning I think we can at least temporarily ignore that debate given what we read in our passage from Luke.

“Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.’”

Sound familiar? That day in the temple Jesus read aloud from the passages of Isaiah, the same passages we just read a few minutes ago, and declared that this promise or proclamation made so long ago had that day now been fulfilled. And he was talking about being fulfilled through himself. Jesus was claiming to have the Spirit of the Lord upon him and be the one who the Lord had anointed. He was the one sent to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The promise of a Messiah had been made so long ago, and you have to wonder if some of the Jewish people had given up on ever seeing the day when this promise would be fulfilled. But on that day in the temple, Jesus declared that the promise was being fulfilled through him. He was the fulfillment of the promise. He was the long-awaited Messiah.

So how is this Christmas Past you are probably wondering? The first Scripture passage is from well before the birth of Jesus and the second one comes some thirty years after his birth. Granted the second one can qualify as the past to us as readers and Christians today, but that is not where I was going with this.

You see the passage from Isaiah can be held as a prophecy of the promise of the coming Messiah. There was no Christmas at this point as there was yet to be the birth of the Savior. But it was the foretelling of the Savior. And in our passage from Luke, Jesus confirms the prophecy through himself and tells us how what was promised is now being fulfilled. So Jesus gives legitimacy to the prophecy as well as his own claim to his identity.

So how does this impact us today? What is the message or important piece that helps us in our daily lives? Well one easy message we can find with these two passages is that God fulfills the promises that God makes with humanity. Yes, it was not in the timeframe that the people of Israel were expecting, or in the end the way many of them were expecting, but God kept the promise. The message of God is faithful is an easy one to derive here.

But I want to look at this a little more in depth. I want you all to think back to the Christmases of your past, even your youth. Was there ever a gift that you had really wanted one year, but you didn’t get? And maybe it was something you wanted every year, it was always at the top of your wish list, but you still never received?

I bet that was disappointing, at least for a little while, for you. Now take a few moments here and think about what the Israelites were feeling about this promise of a Messiah. The book of Isaiah is identified by a superscription as the works of the 8th century prophet named Isaiah ben Amoz, but there is evidence that parts of the book were composed later on. But even if we assume 800 BCE and the time when Jesus was in the temple to be around 30 A.D, that is over 800 years between this specific prophecy and it’s claimed fulfillment by Jesus.

Can you imagine how disappointing that probably was for so many of the Israelites? Year after year, decade after decade, century after century with no fulfillment on this great promise. It’s no wonder if many of the people had given up on this prophecy by the time Jesus arrived and then began his ministry. I mean think about how much changes in 800 years. From 1215 to today in 2015 there have been so many changes in everything from education to theology to healthcare to politics to practically everything!

You have to admit that when we look at it like that, a missed gift from our wish list seems pretty petty by comparison. But I don’t point this out to make anyone feel bad. Rather I want us to consider that God does fulfill the promises that God makes, but does so in God’s time and according to God’s plan. It’s a lot like when we pray. We may not always like the answer that we get from God when we pray because it’s not always yes, sometimes it’s no or not right now. But we are answered and it is all according to God’s greater plan and done in God’s time.

I want you to spend some time this Advent season thinking about the past Christmases in your own life. I want you to spend some time immersed in the joyful memories of time spent with loved ones. I want you to think about the challenging memories including times maybe you failed to deliver on a promise made or when you lost someone close to you. I want you to embrace the Christmases of your past and look at how your life has changed and how you have changed.

As I ask you to do this I have to caution to not get lost in this time of remembrance and reflection. It is important to mindful of our past and learn from it. It is important to take time to appreciate the past and remember the joyful times we have had. But we must not become consumed by the past. If we do and spend all our time and energy within the past we risk not only missing out on the present, but we also risk not participating in the future.

And the future is a very relevant part of our conversations today. How often do we find ourselves talking about wanting the future to better reflect the past which we know so much better and in some cases refuse to let go of. Not saying that we should completely forget the past, but we also cannot let it control everything we do working towards the future.

The past is something we can learn from. The past is a collection of memories from which we have been formed and changed. The past however does not change. But the present is constantly changing, and the future is not yet known or determined by humanity. In Dicken’s work we see Scrooge looking back at his past and seeing happy memories but also finding great regrets at love lost. And in the end we know that he uses the lessons of his past once reexamined to become a better person. I hope this Advent season we all can do the same. I hope we can look back and find ways to continue to better ourselves for the benefit of our fellow man. Amen.