Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, December 11, 2016
Scripture Reference: Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Matthew 2:1-18
Sermon: The Redemption of Scrooge: The Remembrance of Christmas Present: Look Upon Me
In Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is met by the ghost of his friend Marley and 3 other ghosts: The Ghosts of Christmas Past, present, and Future. They each take Scrooge on a journey to see himself more clearly and the choices he has in his life. Each one is different, and each one becomes more and more honest with Scrooge.
As soon as Scrooge opens the door to Christmas Present there is laughter, bells chiming, beautiful decorations filling the hall. It is infectious with the joy of Christmas that Scrooge not only sees, but can feel, even as the Ghost of Christmas Present takes him on a journey to other places. In fact, it is rather puzzling to Scrooge how people can be so gleeful when everything else looks so dreadful – small, plain homes; people waiting in line for help or to cook at the bakery, for they have no other option; eating only a small fare. In fact, the scenes appear so dreadful, so distasteful that Scrooge often tries to turn away or walk away only to have the Ghost turn Scrooge’s head to face reality, saying “Look! Look upon me!” Scrooge must see for himself the reality of all the suffering in the world before he can begin to comprehend and experience for himself the true spirit of Christmas: a glimmer of hope, an experience of profound love in the midst of a hurting world.
It is certainly the good news proclaimed in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ birth. Luke makes it clear this is not just some story, but an account of what God does at a specific time and in a specific place. As Luke begins with the words, “in those days,” we find our attention drawn to the reality of God’s people living oppressed under a foreign government. We are made to see those living in poverty as Mary and Joseph must sleep in a stable and place their newborn baby in a feeding trough, or as angels appear to shepherds working in the fields, and it is into this reality that God enters. As Mary once sang, “God lifts up the lowly.” God does not turn away from the atrocities and pain of this world. Rather the good news Luke proclaims is God enters in showing favor for those who are poor and forgotten. They are at the center of what God is doing. Christ comes to redeem.
Matthew echoes this good news in an account we, like Scrooge, would much rather turn our attention away from – the slaughter of the innocent. Here in our Holy Scriptures we find that which we are all too familiar with in the news or our day, the bloodshed from terrorists, death at the hand or war, gun violence in our schools. God says, “Look! Look to see what hate and fear breeds. King Herod is full of fear for what Christ, this new King, may do. He is afraid of what he will lose. Only it isn’t just King Herod who is afraid. Fear spreads so that all of Jerusalem is afraid, and the only way that Herod sees he can protect himself is through violence.
For some it would seem Mary, Joseph, and Jesus flee to Egypt to avoid the danger, to abandon the pain and suffering that is to come. Only Matt Rawle helps us to see a different truth in his book, The Redemption of Scrooge. Egypt is a powerful nation as it draws strength from its rich and fertile land. It is the land to which many have fled in times of famine and distress in hopes of a better future, including both Abraham and Joseph. It has been a place where God’s people have grown and flourished, until it then became a land of oppression and hate. The Israelites had been enslaved and suffered in Egypt for years. For many Egypt had come to represent everything that was in opposition of God. That which was remembered and told is, “I, the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” Only now, now Christ goes into Egypt, transforming this place of hate and oppression into a place of refuge, hope and resurrection. Christ doesn’t escape reality, but instead goes to redeem Egypt, to confront harsh realities. In hope we are left asking, wondering, if Christ can redeem Egypt, what else can he redeem?
Over and over again in the realities of Christ’s birth God commands us to “Look!” to see the poor and suffering, and not just “in those days,” but “in this day.” For the good news proclaimed by the angels in Luke is, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David your Savior – Christ the Lord!” In Christ, through Christ, hope enters into the harsh realities of this day, into our own places of suffering like Bethlehem. God is there with the marginalized as black lives, the Sioux, police officers cry out, “Look at me!” God is there in the slaughter of Syrian children, children here in our community who are hungry, children who are afraid, who are struggling with anxiety and depression. Christ comes and finds favor with them and says, “Look!” Look at those without work. Look to those whose jobs are being outsourced. Look to the poor whom God favors. God wants us to see what is real.
Scrooge saw, and his heart was breaking as he asked the Ghost of Christmas Present, “Please tell me, will Tiny Tim be spared?” The spirit answers, “I see a vacant seat. . . in the poor chimney-corner, a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.” In that moment, Hope enters in, a miracle begins to take form, as Scrooge begins to see what he can do, challenging his own words that the poor ought to hurry and die. In those days Scrooge, with his cold heart, walked past the hungry, seeing only his security, but on this day Christ came to redeem and Scrooge can now see.
As we celebrate Christmas we celebrate the miracle of what God did – he entered into the harsh realities of the world to confront fear and death. Only God is not done. “For unto you is born this day” another miracle. Every time you and I, the people of God, stop and look to really see the poor and struggling, every time we act here and now to change the course of the future, to lift up the lowly, a miracle has just begun for the sake of the world. God bless us – everyone!