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Dr. Jay P. Cook, Pastor

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Finding the Power to Break Free
Luke 1:67-79
Isaiah 53:4-6

Galatians 6:7-8

Intro:
We all know the Christmas tune telling us that Santa Claus Is Coming to Town – you know the song your older sibling would sing to you and tell you that weren’t going to get anything because you were too naughty. . 
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
You better watch out; You better not cry
Better not pout I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list; And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!
You better not cry; Better not pout
I'm telling you why; Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

Some of us do not take seriously the list factor – I can tell guys who do not make a list stand in Walmart mumbling “what was I supposed to get.” Then you have others who are bound by lists.  Ladies if you have a purse here this morning do you have a list that you crossing things off and adding other things to. 
I saw a button in a store recently that read “I’m on Santa’s Naughty List’ and proud of it.”  I am not so sure that is something I would be bragging about.  But if we are really truthful most of us check our own lists – trying to figure what we have done well and what we ought to change – I’m not so worried about Santa’s list but I do want to be improving on my walk with the Lord.
Many of us do a year end check on ourselves.  The end of the year seems to be a good time to take stock of who we are and what we can do better.   
How am I doing?
                        What kind of person am I becoming?
                        Is it too late to change?

            As we did last week we looked at a clip from Charles Dickens’ movie A Christmas Carol and we will again look at a clip from that movie where Scrooge has to take stock in who is.  He returns home from work on Christmas Eve, and is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who died 7 years earlier. Marley is weighed down with a long heavy chain.  It wound around him like a tail and it was made of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, deeds and purses wrought in steel.  Marley tells Scrooge that he wears what he forged in life.
Clip (From A Christmas Carol)

I do not subscribe to Dickens’ speculation of afterlife.  I find nowhere in the Scripture that a person’s spirit is condemned to wonder the earth as penance.  But we can appreciate the message that Dickens is trying to deliver. Dickens is demonstrating what I call “the Law of Sowing and Reaping.”  The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
Galatians 6:7-8
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

  1. One of the main principles that we confront in this story is that we have to face the consequences of our words and deeds.  Scrooge is being confronted with this truth about life. 
  1. Our actions have consequences.  Our naughtiness and our nice-ness catch up with us.  Now I am not talking about our salvation here but am talking about what is expected of us as we live under God’s grace.
  1. Many have interpreted grace to mean that we can do anything we want and live however we choose without regard to the Word and to others.  The Scripture is clear that we are created to do good works. 
  1. Ephes. 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
  1. Our faith will bear witness to itself if it doesn’t we need to take a closer look at faith.  Faith is going to produce good works.
  1. Jesus uses the image of harvesting to speak about good works as the sign of vital faith.- Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV) 15 "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
  1. Scrooge was bound by the chains of selfish pursuit, instead of bearing fruit that would glorify God.  Look at the chains that crippled him:
  2. Miserliness
  3. Hatred – He hated people
  4. He had a love of money.
  5. As we discover later he helped to keep people in bondage to debt, showing no mercy or compassion.
  6. He was uncaring as a landlord and as employer. 
  7. He no concern that his stinginess created hardship for the Cratchit family.
  1. What chains have we forged in our lives that affect us especially during Christmas?
  1. At this time of the year we become chained to materialism.  We are caught by the allure of wanting and getting more.
  1. Others may get caught by bitterness and the lack of forgiveness.  We hang on to the hurts that others cause and never experience the cleansing that forgiveness provides.  Jesus teaches that we are to forgive as He forgives – unendingly.  If we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven.
  1.  Or we may be bound by unrealistic expectations and end up with anxiety and disappointment.
  1. Or we may be weighed down by worry and resentment over the financial stress of this season.
  2. the average amount spent on Christmas gifts in U.S. for a family is $861
  1. And what about our children who want and want.  Are we forming links of greed in their lives? 
  1. We need to discover the power to break the Humbug chains.  The gospel of grace – the babe born in manger is the one that can free us from the doom of being bound up in chains. 
  1. God’s greatest gift in Jesus Christ is the power to change.  In fact change is God’s business.  Jesus is the one that break the chains of selfishness, pride, materialism, and regret.  He is the one that can set us free. 
  1. The Christmas chains break when we realize that Christmas is not about us!
  1. It is about Christ and others.  As God gave His Son He gave Him for us.  God’s grace was for others – it was for us.
  1. Christmas reminds us to give to others.  It reminds us that we were created for fellowship, for community, for love.  But like Scrooge we can loose sight of this fact.  We can get so caught up in so many different chains, concerns, worries, grudges, that we lose sight of others.
  1. That is why we looked at the story of Zechariah’s song in Luke.  It proclaims the mercy and forgiveness offered through the coming of Christ and it breaks the chains that put limitations on us.  Nothing is impossible for God. 
  2. Zechariah had gotten up in years and had been longing for a child with his wife Elizabeth and when he had given up on his dream an angel of God came to him and told him about the birth of John and that he would pave the way for Christ.  Zechariah’s response was – “No Way!  You’ve got to be kidding!”
  1. As a result of being chained by his and Elizabeth’s age he was made mute.  Over the years he had forged a chain of doubt and unbelief.  When John was born and Zechariah could speak he praised the Lord.
  1. What chains do we want to break in our lives?  And what holy chains do you want to make in your life?  What links of love do want to forge in your life this Advent season?  What chain of events do you want to set in motion that will make this one of the best Christmases ever?
  1. First practical step is instead of saying things will never change we ought to say “I will focus on how to be set free in Christ.”  Most of us would rather moan about everything going wrong.  We need to think about what we can do to make a difference.
  1. Christ sets us free and transforms all things for His purpose.  God loved us.
  1. He invested in us by becoming flesh and showing us what life is all about.
  1. He came as a vulnerable baby subject to all the dangers of the world.  Born in a stable and had no place to call His own.  But came so that we might have life. 

Our lives can be transformed and if our lives are transformed we then need to become transformers of God’s love.    Let me suggest some ways of being a transformer:

  1. Invite a person to come with to worship – but if you invite them don’t just tell them what time worship starts – go pick them up.

a.    My parents became good friends with an owner and his wife of a motel in Lancaster, Willow Valley Inn and Suites. Why am I mentioning this?  Because Mr. & Mrs. Thomas had an inviting hearts.  On Saturday nights Mr. Thomas would go around in the restaurant and invite hotel guest to come worship at the Mennonite church.  My parents did and eventually became friends of the Thomas’s

b.   The folks at the Mennonite church would then invite visitors to go home with them for lunch or out to eat with them for lunch.

c.   Once when my parents were driving back from NJ – they stopped to get a room but none were available – Mr. Thomas saw them and took my parents to his home where he had a couple guest rooms laid out just like the hotel rooms.  You reap what you sew. 

  1. Maybe you have a friend or a co-worker that hasn’t been to church for a while make a special point to invite them to a service.
  1. Bake cookies for your neighbor and write a note that expresses your love for Christ.
  1. If you’re going to Summersville to shop offer to take your neighbor – or if they need something pick it up.

Conclusion:
Your little efforts go a long way in communicating the transforming love of Christ.  There is a story about President Wm. McKinley that tells a lot about what makes a difference in people lives.  President McKinley had to make an appointment of an ambassador to foreign country. As McKinley compared the two equally qualified men; he remembered the time when he was still a congressman.  He had boarded a streetcar during rush hour and got the last seat.  Soon an elderly woman got on with a heavy clothes-basket.  No one got up to offer her a seat.  She had worked her way to a railing near where one of men he was considering for this ambassador position.  He deliberately shifted his paper as if not to see her.   When McKinley saw this he went offered his seat to the elderly woman.  McKinley deliberately appointed the other man for the position.  That man was unaware that anyone was watching.  We are in the people business.

Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.