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Breaking Christmas Chains 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 11:17 AM - Sermon, Christmas, Podcast
Luke 1:67-79

Pastor Christy introduces Morley's Ghost from Dickens' A Christmas Carol and examines ways to break the chains that hold us down.


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Every been with someone in chains? I have. When I was a chaplain in prison, the residents were chained when they arrived and when they left for court. The chain I remember most, wasn't immediately visible. A inmate share with me his study of Genesis. He looked at the King James Version of the Bible as carefully as any Hebrew scholar studied the original text. He had lined out the meaning and genealogy of Adam and Eve with a care of cousin looking for an inheritance. I was amazed at the time he put in this scholarly pursuit. What I didn't know was that he was forging chains for his soul.

On our second visit he revealed to me the reason for his research. He had to prove he was of the line of Cain, surviving in the flood of Noah and as such he was doomed to be evil and imprisoned for it. Genetically and theologically, for him, he was evil without hope of redemption. I remember realizing in horror that the prison he had made with his own chains for his spirit was deeper and darker than the walls and wire that surround our bodies. It is not so much that there are chains; things that hold us back. The surprising part is that we forge our own chains. We put them on and then lumber around, bemoaning our faith.

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is the story of a man in chains that prevents him from the joy of Christmas, the joy of life. On Christmas Eve he is first visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, who died seven years earlier:

When the frightening specter of Marley's ghost confronts the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, he is weighed down with a long, heavy, chain. “It was long, and wound about him like a tail' and it was made (for Scrooge observed in closely of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” When Scrooge inquired about the chain, Marley replied, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

Then Marley asked Scrooge, “Is its pattern strange to you? Or would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain!” — from Humbug to Hallelujah and A Christmas Carol

What chains you down? What stops you? Economic chain down many. A study came out this month in the United Kingdom. One in four Britons are still paying off last year's Christmas' expenses. Christmas chains of debt. Debt can chain us down on a personal level. Not just credit card debit from living too high. Folks who have lost their job are chained by a mortgage they cannot pay and a house they cannot sell. They cannot get out of bed, because of the self forged chains of debt. Even, the mighty Summa hospital had to stop construction of the Crystal Clinic on East Market because it cannot get financing at reasonable terms.

I've talked to people suffering from the effects of smoking or alcohol or other poor health habits. They say they cannot believe they let themselves get this bad. They see the chains that slow and hold them down, and they realize that they are of their own making.

Some chains that keep Christmas down are unrealistic expectations. We have expectations that everything will be sweetness and light in our family gathering, even if the entire history of our family predicts otherwise. When something is less than perfect happens, we feel everything is ruined and but the chains on to stop any hope of recovery, redemption, or rejoicing.

Priorities can be chains, if they are the wrong ones. Putting one's work above all else can chain one to a job a prevent a person from a life full of love and loved ones. It is tempting to just make a living instead of getting a life. Marley warns Scrooge and us about this danger of missing what our true business is: making ourselves the best person we can be, who Christ calls us to be. How can we do that? Marley tells us:

Scrooge asks, “Why do spirits walk the earth?”
It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide' and if that spirit does not go forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me! —and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness!

Christmas reminds us that we were created for community, for fellowship, for love. Like Scrooge however, we can lose sight of this fact, think that business is an end in itself, instead of being a means to care for others.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” — From A Christmas Carol &From Humbug to Hallelujah

Humankind is our business, according to Marley's spirit. There are a lot of people out there, churches, political action groups, public speakers, who will tell you what Christian business is. They will give you a list of issues to support, of people or practices to oppose, even how to vote. There are people that will distill the entire witness of scripture and salvation history into a certain vote on a single issue in a one election. Some will have rules of living that they claim is the business of all Christians and if you don't follow their list of rules…you aren't Christian or biblical. All these people are putting more chains upon you, like my friend in prison to study scripture not to find out how to be free to love, but to justify the chains to which he bound evil to himself.

I keep coming back to Matthew 25:31 and following. God judges the entire world. God does not judge the world by which candidate they supported. God does not judge the world by which version of moral laws they imposed on others. God does not judge the world by how they voted on a proposition. God does judge the world on how they cared for the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, the hungry and the naked. Those who helped are welcomed into the kingdom, those who did not are banished. This is how chains are broken. By making others are business. When we stop putting ourselves first and only, the selfish chains we forge are broken, because when we help others remove their chains, our fall off as well.

You want a modern day Scrooge tale about how you can move from humbug to hallelujah? There is a movie playing now called, Fireproof it is about firefighters, but mainly it is about two people caught in hellfire of a marriage. Ever thing is going well for them. Nice jobs, lovely home, friends and parents in their lives, good health, all should be fine and happy. Yet they cannot stand each other. They cannot speak without insult or hear without hurt. All is argument and anger, the bond of matrimony is a bond of acrimony. They go after each other all the time.

In this move there is a movement from humbug to hallelujah. Struggling to love over 40 days like Scrooge struggle through the night, one of the couples works on a 40 day challenge of loving his partner unconditionally. He decides to love her no matter what. Even when the flowers are thrown away. Even when the special dinner grows cold and uneaten. No matter what he loves her. And by following in the footsteps of Jesus who loved unconditionally, the chains that were binding and choking them fall away and they are back in love.

What chains are keeping you back? Whatever they are you can get rid of chains: By loving one another, by reaching out to others, by being connected to neighbor and stranger, by going out among the world and making humanity your business. Then the chains will fall away and you will move from humbug to hallelujah.

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