December 31, 2017
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
The Redemption of Scrooge
First Sunday after Christmas Day
Accepting Christ’s Invitation
In his book, “The Redemption of Scrooge,” Pastor Matt Rawle writes: “I always get a little tickled when I hear sports analysts try to predict the outcome of a sporting event. They look at talent levels, statistics of team achievements, and coaching trends; but at the end of the day, guessing the winner is simply that – a guess. As far as we have come with technology, the future is something we still cannot control. The future is unknown, terribly unpredictable, and awaiting us all.”
Pastor Rawle continues: “Some things we do know, or we at least expect. We know that we will not live forever upon the earth. We expect the sun to rise every morning and slip below the horizon every night.” He ends with this, “There are small constants in our everyday lives, and then there are the larger variables: Will I find someone to marry? Will I get the job I’m hoping for? Will the test results say ‘benign’? Will I have enough money to retire?”
The disciples asked Jesus to offer them clues about the future. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed…all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Jesus talked about wars, famines, and earthquakes, but most curiously, Jesus said, “See that you are not alarmed.” How can Jesus ask us not to be alarmed about the future?
Scrooge is certainly alarmed at what the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has to show him, but perhaps we can see in his bleak future some hope for us all. Would you pray with me?
The happiness Scrooge feels from seeing his friends from the past, and the compassion he feels in hearing Tiny Tim’s “God bless us every one,” soon give way to fear, and his journey takes a dark turn. We don’t often think about Christmas as a dark time, but Scripture points out that darkness seemed to follow Jesus wherever he went. For instance, Jesus was born at night. The shepherds were “guarding their sheep at night.” The magi traveled at night. The holy family escaped to Egypt during the night to avoid Herod’s persecution. As a young rabbi, Jesus meets Nicodemus at night. Judas leaves to betray Jesus at night. When Jesus was crucified, the sky turned black for hours. When Jesus arose from the dead, the sun had not yet risen, and it was later that evening that Jesus appeared to his disciples.
Darkness is almost its own character in Jesus’ story, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come reminds us of why we should acknowledge the growing darkness of winter days. And now, Scrooge must journey with this Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come into the darkness, not so that he might be scared into changing his life, but so that he can see the emptiness of where his love of money will lead.
Scrooge comes face-to-face with his own finitude. The spirit brings him to his own bedroom, pointing to a body under a still sheet. Dickens writes, “The room was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.” The spirit points to the head of the body, urging Scrooge to pull back the shroud to seemingly gaze upon his own demise. Scrooge admits that he does not have the strength to face himself, and often, neither do we.
Pastor Rawle writes this: “I remember meeting once with a young man to hear about his struggle with addiction. He said that when he looked in the mirror he was quick to legitimize his drug use because he thought, ‘I am only hurting myself. I’m not hurting anyone else.’ Then one day he saw his daughter on the floor of the living room, mimicking his drug use. It was then he realized that the decisions he made did, in fact, affect someone other than himself. He said that at that moment the image he saw in the mirror was different. What he saw finally became “true.” He admitted that he was an addict and that he needed help.
It could be that the spirit wanted Scrooge to see his own face, so he could see the truth about who he had become, but Scrooge was not able to take that hard look in the mirror. The spirit then sweeps Scrooge away to see Tiny Tim. Scrooge arrives at the Cratchits’ home to notice that the house is quiet and still. He then realizes that Tiny Tim has died. He overhears Bob describe the child’s grave to his wife, saying, “I wish you could have gone. It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’ll see it often. I promised him that I would walk there on a Sunday. My little, little child!”
Interestingly, after hearing Bob Cratchit’s pain and sadness, Scrooge asks the spirit about the man who lay hidden under a shroud in his bed. In a way, the image in the mirror is beginning to change. Scrooge sees that he is not his own man, that his decisions do affect the people around him. His journey is almost complete. The light of dawn is about to break the darkness of night that has held his heart for too long.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a shrouded, silent spirit, and Scrooge becomes uneasy and fearful when his questions elicit only an ominous pointing finger from the specter. Sometimes silence is unnerving when we are in desperate need of an answer. When we pray to God and “hear” nothing in response, sometimes it leaves us with an uncomfortable and uneasy feeling that God has turned away or that God cannot be bothered with our petitions.
But have you ever thought that silence is what it sounds like when God is listening. It’s not that prayers go unanswered; rather the silence is God’s invitation for us to continue speaking. But when Scrooge hears no answer from the spirit, he becomes fearful.
As this tale nears its end, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come points Scrooge toward the grave as Scrooge dreadfully asks, “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be, only? We have to ask, “Is there any hope left for Scrooge? Can the future be changed, or has God already determined our path? Have you ever considered how much God knows about our future?”
We should be fascinated by time, especially what we call “the present.” The past is a memory and the future is a dream, but now is what truly exists. The amazing thing about the present is that it’s the only moment of which we are aware, but the moment we are aware of it, the moment is in the past.
Often during Christmastime, we sing “Joy to the World” to celebrate Christ’s birth, but this hymn isn’t actually about Christ’s birth. “Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719 and based on Psalm 98. The song details Christ’s return at the end of time. Listen once again to the words at the beginning of each stanza: “Joy to the world! the Lord is come. Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns. No more let sin and sorrow grow. He rules the world with truth and grace.” You see, this hymn actually points us to the end of the story rather than the beginning.
This final spirit, in a way, represents our fear of the unknown, of the future. We all struggle with the uncertainty of our futures, but Jesus reassures us over and over that he will not leave us and that he is in control. In our scripture lesson today, Revelation 1:4, John of Patmos writes, “Grace to you and peace from him who “is” and who “was” and who “is to come.”
Notice the order of his greeting. He begins with, “Grace to you from him who is.” This is a 2,000-year-old greeting and yet it is in the present tense. This makes it timeless. This is the timeless truth that we are not abandoned. In the midst of suffering, we are not alone. God is, and God is with us.
Not only is our God the God of the present, God is also the Lord of the past: “Grace to you from him who “is” and who “was.” God is Lord of the past, which is why forgiveness is possible. Knowing that God is a God of the past means that our sins may be forgiven, that God can heal wounds from long ago.
If God is not a God who “was,” then we who are would never know forgiveness. Not only that, but worshiping a God who “is” and a God who “was” means that our past matters, at least, the goodness you offer today by loving God and loving neighbor, creates a foundation for tomorrow. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “I’ll seek salvation tomorrow.” Salvation is a process, and it begins today! Did you catch that? “You are being saved” is in the present tense, which means it will always be a present reality.
Grace to you from him who “is,” and who “was,” and who “is to come.” A God who “is” means that we are not abandoned. A God who “was” means that we are forgiven. A God who “is to come” means that God can be trusted.
Scrooge isn’t so sure that he wants to see the rest of his story. He shouts to the spirit – “Here me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been…Why show me this, if I am past all hope!…I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
Scrooge’s past made him who he was. If you do, in fact, reap what you sow, Scrooge’s story will not end well. Scrooge asks whether seeing his future demise is a vision of what will be or what may be. It is a good question. But what we need to know is this, no matter the past and no matter what the future holds, God is with us now and wants nothing more than to be with us. God loves us, has forgiven us, and has given us purpose for the future, beginning today as servants to God and for each other. Through faith in Christ, our present, our past, and our future are held together in grace.
Well, early in the morning Scrooge wakes up from the strangest dream he’s ever had. He opens the window and discovers that it is Christmas morning, and he has been given a chance to change his ways. He did nothing to earn it; rather it was a gift, and he is so full of joy that he immediately hits the streets to make a difference in the world.
He shouts to himself, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world.”
Scrooge has been redeemed. Redemption means exchange – something is offered, and something is received. You see, God has already offered us salvation, and responding to that gift is where transformation takes place.
Possibly, the entire point of “A Christmas Carol” lies in three small words: keep Christmas well, and perhaps that simply means accepting and embracing Jesus’ invitation for redemption. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come certainly aided Scrooge in discovering how to keep Christmas well. The compassion he found for Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit stirred Scrooge’s soul. Offering donations and gifts to the community was the fruit of Scrooge’s redemption, revealing that he was a new and joyful person.
Christmas is an invitation into a relationship with God, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ is born so that God might have ears to hear our wants, eyes to see our need, hands to outstretch on the cross in order to clothe us in his resurrection, and lips to speak the story of good news, that we might share with the world.
When Christ’s invitation is accepted, we discover that we have been redeemed. We have neither earned it nor deserved it. It is a gift from God, calling us to respond in the world with love. If Scrooge can be redeemed, so can we. Let’s pray.
Prayer: Gracious God, you who make all things new, renew us this day and every day, so that we might be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit to reach out in love and service to the world. Amen.