Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, "The Redemption of Scrooge: The Life of Christmas Present," Luke 15:1-7, Matthew 26:11, Deuteronomy 15:11
Luke 15:1-7, Matthew 26:11, Deuteronomy 15:11
The Life of Christmas Present
Today, in our travels with Scrooge, we meet the Ghost of Christmas present. Dickens describes the spirit as, ““a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn.” When Scrooge first sees him, he’s sitting on a kind of throne of sorts, made out of rich and sumptuous foods, in Scrooge’s room which had been cold and bare, but is now decorated and boasts a blazing fire in the fireplace.
Scrooge dreaded the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, but he’s ready to learn from the Spirit of Christmas Present. Upon reflection, he tells the spirit that the lesson from Christmas Past is “working [in him] now.” And so the Ghost takes Scrooge out into the town. Dickens describes the town: “There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.” That’s what Scrooge sees everywhere - people who might not be well off, or who are outright poor, but they are laughing and joking and smiling, throwing snowballs, and so on. Scrooge peers in the Grocers’ windows and sees abundance everywhere. The descriptions are lush with vivid imagery. Folks are going to and from church for Christmas. And everywhere, the Ghost of Christmas Present sprinkles some of his spirit on them from his torch. A touch of the spirit makes people forgive where they might have quarreled, brings good humor even when people are jostling each other in the busy streets.
Scrooge and the Ghost make a visit to Bob Cratchit’s small house. Cratchit’s big family is happy, anxious to see each other, full of warm greetings. Bob and a sickly Tiny Tim arrive home from church, and Bob reports on Tim’s behavior: “[Tim] told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.” (emphasis mine)
When they eat their Christmas goose for dinner, everyone is effusive in their thanksgiving for their meal. Dickens’ writes, “There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration.” “Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.” Mrs. Cratchit wants to give Scrooge a piece of her mind, but Bob won’t say a harsh word against his employer.
Scrooge asks the Spirit: Will Tiny Tim live? The ghosts responds that unless something changes, the child will die. Scrooge is distressed: “No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.” The Spirit tosses Scrooge’s own words back at him: “If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” And Scrooge is wracked with grief and regret at hearing how harsh he had been.
Scrooge also visits the home of his nephew, Fred, with the Ghost. Again, he gets to listen in on people talking about him. Fred says, “He’s a comical old fellow, that’s the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offences carry their own punishment. His wealth is of no use to him. He don’t do any good with it. He don’t make himself comfortable with it.” Nonetheless, Fred says, “I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims! Himself, always … He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can’t help thinking better of it—I defy him—if he finds me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you? If it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds, that’s something; and I think I shook him yesterday.” Fred is sure that his persistence with his uncle might eventually do some good, and might soften his hard heart, even just a little.
Finally, Scrooge notices that the Spirit is travelling with two small children - they both look sickly, dirty, poor. The Spirit tells Scrooge that they belong to all of humanity - and they are Ignorance and Want. “Have they no refuge or resource?” cries Scrooge. And just before the Spirit leaves Scrooge, he again turns Scrooge’s own words back on him. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” For the second time, Scrooge is shaken to the core by a Ghost’s visit.
What the Ghost shows Scrooge - it’s just what is going on all around Scrooge every day, in the “now”, but Scrooge hasn’t been able to see it. The Ghost of Christmas Present is all about showing Scrooge abundance and plenty - but the Ghost’s focus is on the abundance of spirit, love, good will and compassion. Scrooge has only been focused on an abundance of coin, even that, as his nephew notes, he doesn’t really enjoy, because he’s more interested in having it than using it. And since Scrooge can’t even appreciate the kind of abundance he does have, he doesn’t see all the ways he could use his abundance to help others experience abundant life too. And since Scrooge can’t appreciate the abundance of Spirit and love others have, he can’t receive it when they try to share it with him.
What kind of abundance and plenty do you see? If the Ghost of Christmas Present was visiting you, where would the Ghost take you? What or who are you neglecting to see clearly right now? In his book The Redemption of Scrooge, Matt Rawle writes that it is our sin that causes us to be afraid that we don’t have enough, to close our eyes to God’s abundance. And so, thinking we don’t have enough, we buy more food than we need, more clothing than we need, bigger homes than we need, more stuff than we could possibly ever need. He shares a message from a 4th century monk, Basil of Caesarea, who said, “This bread which you have set aside [for yourself] is the bread of the hungry; this garment you have locked away [for yourself] is the clothing of the naked; those shoes [of yours] which you let rot are the shoes of [one] who is barefoot; those riches you have hoarded [for yourself] are the riches of the poor.” (82-83)
Thankfully, Jesus, who is the Bread of Life himself: he shares his very self with us. Jesus clothes us in his very love and righteousness. And the kingdom over which Jesus reigns - he tells us it is ours, and it is here, now, among us. Every bit of abundance God has, God shares freely with us. Sin and fear make us worry that God’s going to run out of good stuff to give us. But that’s not how God works. Our parable today from the gospel of Luke is one of three in a set about losing and finding. The set of parables culminates with the parable of the prodigal son and the older brother, where we see a father welcome home his son who had been lost to him and remind his older child that he is beloved too. And before that, there’s a woman who has lost one of ten coins, and searches her home until she finds it. But we start out with a shepherd and some sheep - one hundred of them. Jesus asks: What shepherd who had one hundred sheep, wouldn’t, upon losing one of them, leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until they find it? And when the shepherd finds that one sheep, Jesus says, they’ll rejoice with friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
Jesus doesn’t wait for an answer to his question, but we can fill in the blanks. What shepherd wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine sheep to find the one? None of them would do that! Who would leave ninety-nine sheep alone in the wilderness to find the one sheep that probably already had been eaten by a predator? No shepherd wanted to get paid would take such a risk! They’d just be thankful they still had ninety-nine sheep, and watch them all the more closely!
But, Jesus is telling us that God sees things differently. God’s sense of abundance doesn’t just mean that God has so many people to follow God that one of us doesn’t matter. God’s loving abundance means that each one of us is precious and beloved, and that God has such a lavish abundance of love and grace that God doesn’t have to take anything away from the ninety-nine to seek out the one. God’s abundant resources of compassion allow God to love and care for the ninety-nine and to seek after the one with God’s whole heart.
God is Abundance and Plenty. But God isn’t storing up stuff, maintaining abundance by refusing to share. Rather, God is abundant in Spirit, in self-giving, in love. Simon Tugwell writes, “If we keep clamouring for things we want from God, we may often find ourselves disappointed, because we have forgotten the weakness of God and what we may call the poverty of God. We had thought of God as the dispenser of all the good things we would possibly desire; but in a very real sense, God has nothing to give at all except [God’s very self].” (From Prayer, as quoted in The Redemption of Scrooge, 105) And that, friends, is just what God gives us: God’s very self. In Jesus, we receive God’s very self, the most lavish gift of all.
Sometimes, like Scrooge, we’re so focused on holding tight to what we have, trying to create an abundance for ourselves, that we don’t realize and don’t have room in our lives to receive what God has already given us: God’s self, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s mercy and forgiveness. We can’t claim those gifts if we’re too busy trying to make sure we have enough of everything else. Jesus helps us make room, asking us to find a place in our hearts for a tiny babe in a manger - a small thing that will fill our hearts and lives completely. And when we let Jesus make room in our hearts and lives, when we embrace God’s abundance, God opens our eyes to the people around us with whom we can share our abundance without anxiety, without fear we’ll run out. We have to wait till the rest of our journey with Scrooge to find out how he opens his eyes to a new kind of abundance, but thankfully, we don’t have to wait to start seeing things differently ourselves. Even as we wait to welcome Christ again this Christmas, he’s already with us, ready to fill our hearts and lives and world. Thanks be to God. Amen.