The fourth Sunday of Advent is the perfect time to let the Scripture readings speak for themselves and use the sermon to remind the congregation that their coming Christmas celebrations are about so much more than the birth of a baby. Resurrection is afoot! For those preachers who’d like a more scholarly approach to Advent 4B you’ll find it in another sermon posted here
The church’s season of Advent offers a sanctuary from the endless demands of preparation for the big day. Our Christmas traditions, if they are to be maintained, require a great deal in the way of preparation. But there’s one Christmas tradition that I’ve been enjoying since I was a child that requires little or no preparation save for the effort to carve out the time, when time seems to be in short supply. Somehow over the years, I’ve never missed the opportunity to watch the old black and white version of Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. There is of course only one portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge that will do.
If it’s not Alistair Sim, it’s just not Scrooge. I usually wait until Christmas Eve to watch the movie. But this year I found the time to read the book and I’ve got to say, there is much in Dickens exploration of Christmas that I’ve been missing over the years.
In the words of Charles Dickens: Ebenezer Scrooge “was as cold and miserly a man as one could ever meet. “He was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation on Christmas Eve is nothing short of a miracle. Scrooge was a broken man. Broken, years before the story begins. The women he loved, Belle, broke her engagement to him one Christmas, she tells Ebenezer, “you fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the mast passion, GAIN, engrosses you.”
Belle doesn’t tell us how this fear of the world developed. She doesn’t tell us what Scrooge’s nobler aspirations had been. We don’t know what made Belle fall in love with Scrooge in the first place—but we do know that whatever it is, it is gone now. As the Ghost of Christmas Past moves through Scrooge’s life we catch glimpses of what may have broken him – a distant father, the death of his much loved sister, his exposure to wealth in the first place – but we are never quite told what made Scrooge the man he is at the beginning of Dickens’ tale. All we know is that Scrooge is broken and greed and anger have possessed his very soul. Scrooge’s life was broken. While he had all of the wealth, and then some, that any person might need – he was miserable.
I used to think that A Christmas Carol was the story of Scrooge’s metamorphosis. The scene in the movie were Scrooge realizes that it is Christmas morning and that life doesn’t have to be the way it has always been and he does that wonderful dance and sings: “I don’t know anything! I never did know anything all on a Christmas morning!” I always thought of that wonderful dance as the culmination of Scrooge’s metamorphosis, like a butterfly bursting forth from a cocoon. But now I see it for what it really is. It is a dance of resurrection. For Scrooge was dead. Dead and gazing at his own tombstone, when suddenly, and suddenly for me always indicates the work of the Spirit, suddenly, Scrooge realizes that what he is seeing are only the shadows of things that might be. Suddenly, Scrooge knows “that men’s deeds foreshadow certain ends. But if the deeds be departed from surely the ends will change!” Scrooge is born again and is able to declare with confidence, “I’m not the man I was.” And so, the resurrected Scrooge becomes all that God intended him to be. Scrooge’s past didn’t go away—the hurtful Christmas memory of Belle ending their engagement, all of the ill-spent years somewhere between the party at Fezziwig’s and the visit of the spirits would still be a part of Scrooge’s life, resurrection doesn’t erase the past, but transforms the future, hope becomes part of the resurrected life! And so, Scrooge reborn, becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City ever knew…and it was always said of Scrooge “that he knew how to keep Christmas well!” Knew how to keep Christmas well. Keeping Christmas well is very different than celebrating Christmas. Keeping Christmas well is about resurrection; resurrection of our very selves. I always thought of that wonderful dance as the culmination of Scrooge’s metamorphosis, like a butterfly bursting forth from a cocoon. Keeping Christmas well is to forget what you have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for you. Keeping Christmas well is to see your neighbours as just as real as you are, and to try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hearts hungry for human connection, for dignity, for love and for joy. Keeping Christmas well is the realization that the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life. Keeping Christmas well means closing your book of complaints against the management of the universe and looking around you for a place where you can accomplish some good. Keeping Christmas well is remembering the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; it means not worrying so much about how much your friends love you but asking yourself whether you love, honour and care for them enough; it means stepping down from your pedestal long enough to see that you are not the centre of the universe; it means bearing in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; trying to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; it means burying your ugly, destructive and selfish motives and nurturing your nobler ones.
Keeping Christmas well includes the realization that your generation is not the last generation; that you have received an astonishing inheritance given by God, that your very next breath of life is pure gift; that all your various abilities and capacities were knit together in your mother’s womb and you had nothing to do with this original blessing, and that the bounty planet earth offers—its beauty and majesty – are both a wondrous blessing and an awesome responsibility; it’s the realization that you have duties to perform as citizens of a free nation in a dangerous world; that matters of war and peace are not just problems for others to solve; that much, if not most, of what goes on in the space around you depends upon your choices and your actions.
Keeping Christmas well is about being fully alive to all that life has to offer and being gracious in your responses to this amazing grace and living into all that God created you to be. When you keep Christmas well you are willing to believe that forgiveness is the doorway to a hope-filled future; that mercy reflects God’s nature; and that love is the most powerful thing in the universes—stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death! Keeping Christmas well is living with the knowledge that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Scrooge’s metamorphous began, dancing and singing: “I don’t know anything, I never did know anything, all on a Christmas morning.” To keep Christmas well you must first realize that in the grand scheme of things you don’t know anything. For then, in humility, you can see the hope that lies in the manger. The hope of resurrection.
Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas well, may that be said of all of us. And as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone!