Writing a Good Ending 
Sunday, December 21, 2008, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Christmas, Podcast
Matthew 2:1-18 (not lectionary)

Pastor Christy introduces The Ghost of Christmas Future from Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Karen from the movie Love Actually to show how like the wisemen we can write a happy ending to our Christmas Story.

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

“Tell me. If you were in my position, what would you do?” asks the character Karen played by Emma Thompson in the movie, Love Actually. “Imagine your husband bought a gold necklace, and come Christmas gave it to somebody else...Would you wait around to find out if it's just a necklace, or if it's sex and a necklace, or if, worst of all, it's a necklace and love? Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse? Or would you cut and run?”

That is only one of the several stories in the film where couples write the own end to their Christmas stories.

In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge knew the end of his Christmas story. The Ghost of Christmas Future shows him his own death, unmourned and ignored and contrasts with the great mourning and grief of Bob Cratchit over the loss of his son, Tiny Tim. Scrooge asks about the ending to his own story:

The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.

"Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" -- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Our scripture today examines the wise men and Herod and dueling Christmas stories. The wise men wanting to praise and welcome the new King and old King Herod wanting to put an end to that story before it even started. Herod invites the wise men to be part of his murderous story, to come and tell him where the king of the Jews is born, asking them to be accomplices in his murder story.

How do you get out of the rut to a different route? How do you take a different way home? How do you turn a wasted life that Scrooge sees in his future into a one that is valued and cherished like Tiny Tim's? How do you stay with a husband who gave the other woman the gold necklace?

There is no change without hope. This is no happy ending written without hope planning and prompting it. Hope is something Christians should have plenty of. We should be the OPEC of hope. Folks should get up in the morning and asks Christians what the Hope index is today. C.S. Lewis says “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Like Scrooge we have seen the end of the story. But in our vision God wins. Evil loses. No matter how bad things get, God saves God's people. When we realize that we are part of eternity and moving toward God's good end, who can help but have hope? A baby can do nothing for itself. A baby Jesus is not a savior, it is the sure hope of salvation. We celebrate hope when we celebrate Christmas. We see the manager and say, “Look, there's hope!” It is a baby now, but it will grow, and learn, and teach, and heal, and love, and die, and rise again to save us. In that baby there is the hope of the world, hope that world and the people in it will be saved. Take the hope of Christmas, that a baby can change the world, and write it into your life. Small beginnings can have great and wonderful endings.

Listen to Others
Scrooge gets to see people react to his death, or rather, not react. The wise men get a warning in the dream not to be a part of Herod's murderous plan. In the movie, Love Actually, the revelation comes when Karen finds the gold necklace in her husband's coat pocket before Christmas, and then doesn't find it under her tree. Each of these takes direction from outside themselves. The Wise Men see Herod for who is really is, Scrooge sees himself as others see him. Karen notices what her husband is doing and even asks her husband for advice on what to do about his unfaithfulness.

Do you know why the magi are called wisemen? It is because it the entire history of humanity, they are the only men to stop and ask for directions. Truly wise men.

If you want to change your route, write a new good ending to your Christmas Carol, pay attention to what others are doing how others see you. Yes, even the nasty ones can help you see things in yourself that those who love you or fear you, won't tell you. Pay attention to those around you. Ask directions if you must. Others can help you find a new route, a way home, a way to a happier ending to your story.

Give Happiness to Others
Dr. James Dobson relates a story of an elderly woman named Stella Thornhope who was struggling with her first Christmas alone. Her husband had died just a few months prior through a slow developing cancer. Now, several days before Christmas, she was almost snowed in by a brutal weather system. She felt terribly alone—so much so she decided she was not going to decorate for Christmas.

Late that afternoon the doorbell rang, and there was a delivery boy with a box. He said, "Mrs. Thornhope?" She nodded. He said, "Would you sign here?" She invited him to step inside and closed the door to get away from the cold. She signed the paper and said, "What's in the box?" The young man laughed and opened up the flap, and inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador Retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and explained, "This is for you, Ma'am. He's six weeks old, completely housebroken." The young puppy began to wiggle in happiness at being released from captivity.

"Who sent this?" Mrs. Thornhope asked.

The young man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, "It's all explained here in this envelope, Ma'am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you." The young man then handed her a book, How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.

In desperation she again asked, "Who sent me this puppy?"

As the young man turned to leave, he said, "Your husband, Ma'am. Merry Christmas."

She opened up the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy as his last Christmas gift to her. The letter was full of love and encouragement and admonishments to be strong. He vowed that he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then.

She wiped away the tears, put the letter down, and then remembering the puppy at her feet, she picked up that golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor's house, and she heard from the radio in the kitchen the strains of "Joy to the World, the Lord has Come." Suddenly Stella felt the most amazing sensation of peace washing over her. Her heart felt a joy and a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness.

"Little fella," she said to the dog, "It's just you and me. But you know what? There's a box down in the basement I'll bet you'd like. It's got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress you. And there's a manger scene down there. Let's go get it." --Robert Russell, writer and pastor, Preaching Today #195

Her husband wrote a different ending to that Christmas and managed to bring joy to those he loved even after death.

The wise men change the ending of the story of Jesus birth that Herod had written. Herod wanted to kill the baby king, after all he was king, and he was quite happy with that arrangement. The wise men, change the end of the story, by changing their part in the story, they went home by another route.

Scrooge changes his life story from humbug to hallelujah. He buys a Christmas Turkey for the Cratchits, gives generously to a collection for the poor, and makes merry with his nephew Fred and his family. He chooses a different route.

In Love Actually, we are treated to a scene where all the couples join at the all coming home at the airport, all changed. In one of the scenes, Karen welcomes back, coolly but sincerely, her straying husband showing us what route she took home, one of forgiveness, love and family.

With others, with hope, by sharing joy, choose the route that leads to a good ending this Christmas.

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