A Christmas Carol- Christmas Eve

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Tonight, I would like to reflect on one of my favourite Christmas stories. As you probably remember, the opening lines of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens are 
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that”.
 … Marley was Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner. Marley has died, but I think there is an implication that even in life Marley was “dead”. Scrooge was Marley’s only friend, and it seems to be the case that Marley was also Scrooge’s only friend. Even so, Scrooge seems to be more concerned with getting a good deal on the funeral, than mourning for his dead friend. Dickens describes Scrooge saying, 
“…he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”
 His sole purpose seems to be to accumulate wealth and not disperse it. Scrooge is a dark and joyless man. He is indifferent to the needs of others, especially when caring might draw from his wallet. He is law abiding, but lifeless. His world is small. All people “worship” something. They all hold something as their highest priority- their highest principle. Scrooge has chosen money as his god to serve, and all worship shapes us. His worship of wealth shaped him into a greedy and lonely miser. He sees life through the pinhole of economics.

A mission is initiated to try to save Scrooge’s soul. First, he meets Marley’s ghost. … In Luke 16 we read about a parable with Lazarus, the poor man at the rich man’s gate, the rich man dies and pleads that he would be able to leave his place of torment and warn his brothers, so they won’t end up where he us. The rich man is denied saying that his brothers have the warnings of Moses and the prophets. Unlike the rich man in the parable, Marley’s ghost is permitted to go to Scrooge and warn him about his place of torment and to tell him to prepare for three ghostly visitors.

Throughout the story clocks are constantly chiming, reminding Scrooge that his time is running out. Through out the season of Advent we have been reminded by our readings that our time, too, is running out.

Changing the way we think is not easy and Scrooge is no different. He does not want to believe he is seeing a ghost. He scrambles to hold onto his worldview, where what is real is money, and economics, not ghosts. So he doubts his senses, looking for a more scientific explanation- perhaps the ghosts are a result of something he ate, just vivid hallucinations.

But the ghosts come.

The Ghost of Christmas Past comes and reminds Scrooge of what has been. …This is an important spiritual practice. It is important that we take time to seriously look over our life. Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. And that teaching is echoed in many spiritual traditions. Take time to look over our lives. Consider our past choices, and our relationships. How have we been treated? How have we treated others? What are our regrets? What fears have driven us? Who are we asked to forgive? What kind of people have we become on the basis of the things that have happened to us and the choices we have made?

The spirit takes Scrooge on a journey through his past. He sees the joy he felt at Christmas as a child, even if he was a lonely child. Scrooge is shown that he received both cruelty and generosity. As he grew older and began to work, he sees his generous employer Mr. Fezziwig who treated him so well, and Scrooge reflects on how shamefully he treats his own employee, Bob Cratchit. … He was loved by a girl who wanted to marry him, but he choses money over her. … He sees that he chose to be alone. … It can be painful to face the past, and Scrooge feels the sting.

The Ghost of Christmas Present comes as joyful, kind, and bountiful- a personification of Christmas tradition, like Father Christmas. He is surrounded by decorations and all that would be needed for a perfect Christmas feast. … Scrooge could afford to put on a celebration like this, but instead, on Christmas Eve, he sits in the dark eating gruel beside a stingy fire. …

The Spirit helps Scrooge to consider his present. He helps him to think outside himself. This, too, is an important spiritual practice to develop compassion. We often focus on something that hasn’t gone well in our life. Perhaps we weren’t able to find that perfect gift for our loved one. We should consider that some don’t have their loved one this year. Some are facing persecution and can’t celebrate Christmas in the open. Some are living in the midst of war, or famine. Some are fighting addiction, or are living on the streets. We do well to consider what struggles others face. Hopefully, we can come to a place of spiritual maturity where we “Share one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2).

The spirit and Scrooge visit his employee, Bob Cratchit, and his family. They are very poor, but they seem to be full of Christmas cheer, none the less. They are a loving and happy family. Scrooge sees Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim, whose health is not good, but whose spirit is strong. As Scrooge overhears, Bob privately relates to his wife how Tim wished that people who passed by might see his crippled state and be reminded of the healing miracles of Jesus. … They are a poor family, but they focus on what they have and are grateful for it. The saintly generosity of Tim overflows- he doesn’t just ask God to bless his family, he asks God to “bless us, everyone”.

Scrooge’s heart is touched and he asks the spirit if Tim will survive. The spirit replies that he will not if his situation doesn’t change, implying that those that have the means to help (like Scrooge) are not willing.

Scrooge’s words about the poor come back to haunt him- when asked for a donation for the poor he says the poor should go to the prisons and workhouses. The man collecting funds replies that many of the poor would rather die than go to those places. Scrooge responds, 
“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population”.
 … The poor were an economic reality to Scrooge. They were a line in a budget. … It is easy to see poverty, refugees, and addiction this way when we don’t see a face and a name and a story. It’s easy to just see politics and budgets and the effect on business. … But now, for scrooge, the poor had a face. His self-imposed ignorance of their struggles has a real effect on a real life. … Scrooge has started to see outside himself, and to see how he effects others, even through his ignorance.

The Ghost of Christmas Future reminds us of the Grim Reaper. He is death personified. Contemplating our death is another important spiritual practice. Such reflection urges us to spend our short time on earth well. It reminds us that we will face the choices we have made in this life. We see that we have become a certain kind of person through these choices, and that is the person who will face judgement. Judgement will be about our lives facing Ultimate Reality. Have we lived according to that Ultimate Reality? Or have we lived contrary to that Ultimate Reality? There are consequences for how we have lived. That, too, is a teaching across the spiritual traditions of the world.

Though he is unwilling to see it at first, Scrooge faces his own funeral. The only people who consider attending his funeral are miserly, miserable people like himself that will only go if lunch is provided. His room and corpse are scavenged by thieves. No tears are shed for him, and no respect is given. … The world seems like it might even be better with him gone.

The spirit then shows him Tiny Tim, who has died. Jesus’ words seem to come alive here- 
“unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3).
 Tim’s body is lovingly kissed and wept over. Though they try to be strong, the Cratchits are crushed and the pain is made worse by the fact that this could have been prevented if someone had just shown some charity towards them.

… This vision of his future, lacking love and tenderness, brings about repentance in Scrooge. He wakes up and is born again. With tears streaming down his face, he is a new man. He has died to his old life and has now found true life (Matt 16:25). Scrooge springs into action. He sets about making apologies and is, in turn, forgiven by others. Scrooge is now full of joy. He is playful, and generous. … And, through his newfound generosity, saves Tiny Tim’s life.

I love that story, and I hope you don’t mind me retelling it. Why does this story matter? Why does it touch us? … Why is it a mistake to use economics as your only lens to view the world? Why does it matter to care for the poor?

In John’s biography of Jesus, we read about the Word or the Logos. The Logos is the rational principle that orders the universe and gives it meaning and purpose. The Logos is why there isn’t complete chaos. It was through this Logos that God created to universe. John describes how that same Logos was going to come to live with humanity. Not as a great warrior, a king, or an emperor. … The Logos, the principle that holds the universe together and keeps it ordered, comes as a baby, born to a young unmarried girl named Mary, betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. When he was born he was placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. When he was presented at the Temple, the offering his parents gave was the offering of the poor. In this act, God declares the incredible value of all people, even the poor, perhaps even especially the poor. Jesus would grow to teach that as we have done to the least of these his brothers and sister, we have done it to him (Matt 25). … Serving Tiny Tim is serving Christ, himself. … This is not something the ancient Pagan world would have found conceivable (See here). The warming of Scrooge’s heart towards the poor would not have made sense in the ancient Pagan world. We would not feel our hearts warmed by the conversion of his heart unless God’s logos had placed incredible value on the poor through the Holy Family, who soon became refugees as they fled a vicious king. This theme is carried throughout Jesus’ life. In Phil 2:6-7 Jesus is described saying, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant”. He taught his disciples that if they wanted to be great that they should serve others (Matt 20:26). Mary, his mother sings about God, “he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52). … Scrooge’s story would not inspire us if God was not born to this poor couple, and if Jesus had not taught us to serve and love others as if we were giving service to him. There is always the present danger that to cease valuing the Gospel story is to eventually lose the meaning in Scrooge’s story.

The Franciscan Friar, Richard Rohr has said, “When we say ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ on this Christmas Day, we are preferring his Lordship to any other loyalty system or any other final frame of reference. If Jesus is Lord, than Caesar is not! If Jesus is Lord, then the economy and stock market are not! If Jesus is Lord, than I am not!” That is precisely what Scrooge learned, and it is in bowing at the manger that Scrooge’s story has meaning. AMEN


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