Title: The Spirit of Christmas Past
Pastor: Dr. William S. Barnes
Scripture: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:67-79
This week's excerpt from Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol shows us Scrooge's encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past. This spirit is described as having a bright clear light that streamed from the top of its head. It is symbolic of the light that will shine on Scrooge's now darkened life and his dim forgotten past. You will see him meet the Ghost then be taken back to a heart-breaking conversation with his fiancÃ©e, Belle. The light that illuminates all of this is so bright and truth-revealing that Scrooge tries unsuccessfully to extinguish it.
[VIDEO followed by MONOLOGUE]
"I wonder if the light was just too much for him to endure..."
I remember a day last March when the light (sunlight, that is) was just too much for me to endure. I got a speeding ticket right in front of the Chain of Lakes Middle School less than 100 yards from the driveway that leads into St. Luke's from Conroy-Windermere Road. You probably know the place. I do! The cops are always there nabbing people with their radar gun as they come up over the hill from the stoplight just to the east. The reason they are there is that the speed limit on Conroy-Windermere drops from 45 MPH to 35 MPH right there, and if you are not paying attention to the change they will get you. The thing is, I always pay attention to that change. My daughter was ticketed there last year for the same thing. (I guess it runs in the family.)
Now get this. This happened at 11:00 am. At 7:30 am that day, I was at the Church Street Station Ballroom to host the annual "Call to Hope" breakfast for Shepherd's Hope, the free medical ministry that St. Luke's started over 12 years ago. We raised $190,000 for people in need. From there I went to tutor at Pineloch Elementary school. I go every Thursday morning from 9 to 10:30 and work with bilingual kindergartners. I left there to meet a family at my office at the church who needed financial assistance. Enroute I listened to a voicemail telling me that a good friend and member of the church was making the decision to take his mother off of life-support at the hospital. Nonetheless, my heavy foot as I left the stoplight and came over the hill to see the welcoming officers wave me over got me in trouble. I was cited for driving 44 in a 35 zone.
This was my third ticket since I began driving 42 years ago. My first ticket was in Fort Lauderdale for going 30 in a 25 zone on my way to a wedding. My second ticket was on Sanibel Island for going 35 in a 30 zone. And of course this last one was for a much larger infraction 44 in a 35! I can't help but think that I am wasting my tickets! Why don't I ever get something like a ticket for going 90 in a 75 on the turnpike? Maybe because I never go 90! I am an habitual surface street law-breaker.
Now here's the thing about this traffic stop. I was waved over to the median turn lane not far from the intersection of Conroy-Windermere and Apopka-Vineland Roads, in sight of the church. There was a whole lot of traffic passing by, and in my unique pea-soup green Jeep, I was easily recognizable to any of my parishioners or friends who happened to pass by! Sure enough when I finally did get to the office one of the staff members had told everyone she could find that "the preacher got a ticket." Even though I had just finished doing two good things and was on my way to do another, I was caught doing a bad thing right there in front of God and everybody. I have to admit that I would have preferred that whole thing to have happened in complete darkness if it had to happen at all! Or at least have it happen on a dark, rainy day around sunset. But no, it had to happen on one of the most gloriously beautiful days we had had so far that spring, and right at the time the sun was highest overhead.
When I got home I realized that the officer had never had me sign the citation, so I decided to drive right back to the same spot, and if the officers had still been there I would have stopped to get my ticket written correctly. And some would have seen me again there by the radar gun and said, "Can you believe it? Pastor Bill got stopped two times today for speeding by the church!"
The fact that we all do things (either willingly or by omission) that we would prefer to keep in the dark is precisely why we need a God who not only shines a light on us but also gives us the chance to be redeemed. As a result of that forgiving love we no longer need to run for the shadows. We can embrace the light and live in the fullness of it, provided we live as God desires us to live.
In the scripture today, the priestly father of John the Baptist, Zechariah is the one who says, "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death." Scrooge was sitting in that kind of darkness, and the shadows of a life that was no life at all had closed in on him so tightly that he could no longer see clearly. The Ghost of Christmas Past was a holy light shining on his life, enabling him, much to his dismay to see who he was and who he had become. Zechariah continues his prophecy by saying that the light is there not to shame us, but "to guide our feet into the way of peace." That is, the way of wholeness, safety, and centeredness in love.
As much as Scrooge wanted to extinguish the light of the Ghost of Christmas Past, it was the thing he needed most. Every once in a while when I walk past a mirror and catch my reflection (when I am not brushing my teeth or shaving) I am surprised to see myself as I am. I say to myself, "Oh yeah, that's what I look like now." My image of myself as a 160 pound college kid with a full head of hair still lingers in my head. Reality comes as something of a shock every time. Scrooge yells at the spirit, "Show me no more," but the irony is that it is through the showing that Scrooge comes to knowing: knowing who he is and who he can still become.
The dawn from on high is breaking on you and me, even as we sit in the shadows of what we have been. But the light also illumines the way to peace. With ourselves, with each other, and with the One who is the Light of Life.