Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, November 27, 2016
Scripture Reference: Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 1:46-47, 52-55
Sermon: The Redemption of Scrooge: Bah Humbug! Making Change
It is officially the start of the holiday season. There are light decorations to enjoy, trees appearing in windows, shopping that has begun, and cookies to bake. In our house growing up that also meant it was time for Dad to watch Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a crotchety old man who is the antithesis of anything good about Christmas, but who goes through a transformation such that he is not only full of cheer but he is also feeling a connection with others. He is starting to value the people in his life.
In truth the transformation, or redemption of Scrooge, embodies the invitation for all of us to experience the transformation and redemption Christ offers. Advent, which in Latin means “to come” holds firmly the promise of God, a story of salvation that is yet unfinished. In the words of the prophet Isaiah we hear God’s plan to send the Messiah to save God’s people. It leaves us, on the one hand, living in longing and dismay, for we see the need for God’s redemption: we see the wars, the fruits of greed and self-interest; we hear the accounts of the poor and middle class living in fear of the future while sales on top end sports cars spike; we see the effects of racial tensions. And, on the other hand, we live in hope and joy for we know in Christ all things have been reconciled to God. We don’t dismay for us we know Christ’s reconciling work is still coming into fruition.
Advent is a time of living in this tension. It is a time of opening ourselves to the presence of God, to experience for ourselves a change where we start to see how we can be part of God’s redemptive work.
That is certainly the tension and invitation we observe throughout the opening of “A Christmas Carol.” It is a story that begins with the news, “Marley is dead,” and indeed the very feeling of everything is death and despair. Even though it is only afternoon, darkness has settled in and surrounded Scrooge as he sits alone in the corner counting his money. Others try to lift Scrooge’s eyes above and beyond his counting table: carolers singing of comfort and joy; Scrooge’s nephew speaks of the good in humankind at Christmas as all come together; city officials invite Scrooge to be part of it all by giving to the poor. Only Scrooge dismisses them all. He cannot move beyond what he has always known – counting money in the store front that still bears Marley’s name and still living in the house he shared with Marley. Scrooge lives with a hard, cold heart, for Marley is dead.
Until the bells ring and the ghost of Marley appears. It is only the ghost of Marley that is able to awaken Scrooge to other possibilities for living; Marley was good at business, good at counting money. He, like Scrooge, was never able to see beyond his own business. Only now, now that he is dead and unable to do anything, he sees all the needs in the world, all the things he could have done, but instead he squandered it all. Instead he did nothing but count his money. Through his own misery he tries to help Scrooge choose a different way of living in which the common welfare is his business, not the shared fate of Marley and all the other ghosts wandering outside his window moaning, for they are unable to do anything to help the poor they now see. Marley tries to encourage Scrooge to make a change in his life now, to live differently than he himself did.
The visit by Marley’s ghost embodies the tension we ourselves recognize during Advent as he offers both a warning and the promise of something different for Scrooge. The truth is that we all have a bit of Scrooge in us. We are all in need of the same invitation, the same change of heart. All of us have the propensity to get absorbed in our own affairs, to see only what is important to us and is in our own best interests. We get focused on all the work we have to do to get ready for the holidays: cards mailed, gifts bought, parties attended. We make decisions based on our own self-interests. We do what we have to do to make it through another day. We get lost in ourselves, and lose sight of God’s presence. And indeed there are many signs of this truth that can leave us in dismay. One can be left wondering if things will ever change for the better.
Only there is a greater truth we know, a truth proclaimed by carolers that leaves us not in dismay for “Christ the Savior was born to save us all.” Nothing and no one, not even Scrooge, is beyond God’s redeeming work. We are still seeing God’s redeeming work unfold. There are signs of humanity being drawn together in the hope of shared kindness and charity, and at no time is it more powerful than at Christmas, when we are reminded that Christ was sent to redeem us.
Just this week I was listening to the news, hearing accounts of hospitals in Syria being targeted in raids so that people fear going there for help, so that doctors are being kept away. I was left feeling dismay for the world. Only the very next story was a reminder that God was at work, that people were choosing to live out of God’s promises. It was a story about Utica, NY in which the entire town was committed to offering a new beginning for Syrian refugees: welcoming the as neighbors, businesses offering employment opportunities; kindness and charity undergirding the very character of this community. And in listening to people speak of their town, you knew they felt blessed.
Only we don’t have to go to NY to see such signs. It is evident in our community as people and businesses work together to ensure children aren’t left hungry. The tags being filled with gifts for families, or gift cards being donated; the thousands of shoeboxes collected in our area. It is seen in the number of people braving the cold, like so many who are homeless, even if for 1 hour to ring bells at Don’s. There are countless signs that people are opening their hearts, making changes in their own lives so that they can be part of God’s redeeming work.
That is what is so powerful about this time of year as we remember Mary’s witness. Even though there was great risk, even though there was great uncertainty, even though there was great reason to fear, Mary found peace when she opened her life to God. She was a peace with whatever difficulties may come, whatever costs there may be, because she knew she was being part of God’s tremendous work. She sang with joy at the miracles of what God was doing, and that she was able to be part of it.
The same can be true for us. This Advent season can be the beginning of God brining a change of heart in us, in filling us with a peace that enables us to live out of God’s promises of peace, justice, and mercy for all people. The bells awakened Scrooge to see beyond his own business and to see his business was the common good of al. The bells were the beginning of a journey of transformation in which Scrooge begins to experience the same joy and peace of Mary as he too starts to live making changes in the world according to God’s promises. The bells of Christmas, including the bell you are given after church that you can put on your key chain, a necklace, or zipper, can awaken us to God’s Spirit at work in us. Each time we hear Christmas bells we are reminded to see what God is already doing in the world, and how we can share in the work of making change. When we hear the bells we are reminded the miracle of Christmas has just begun in YOU for the sake of the world. . . God bless us everyone!