Did you know that A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story for Christmas as it
was originally called by Charles Dickens and published in 1843 has never
gone out of print? And of course it has been adapted for stage, film, opera
and other media. To get into the sermon writing mood this week, I watched
the Disney animated version. But there are so many. Greats like Jim
Carey, George C Scott, Alistair Sim, Patrick Stewart, Mr. Magoo and even
Kermit the Frog have all thrown their talents behind this timeless story.
Dickens wrote this classic story about stingy old Scrooge out of a deep
regard for the poor and social injustice. Part of the genius of Dickens’s tale
is the gradual transformation that occurs over Scrooge’s interactions and
exchanges with the spirits. During this Advent season we are examining
the redemption of Scrooge that transpires each Christmas as it has done
for almost 175 years and wondering how this story might transform us in
Most of us are familiar with the story. Ebenezer Scrooge is self-hating
miser for whom Christmas is a disruption in the world he had built for
himself: an intrusion. For him poor people in need are threats to his
fortune, paid days off are an inconvenience and burden to his business
and his own loneliness is a product of refusal to engage in social
constructs. Scrooge is approached first by the ghost of his deceased
business partner Jacob Marley. Marley had spent his life hoarding his
wealth and exploiting the poor, and, as a result, is doomed to walk the
Earth for eternity bound in the chains created by his own greed. Marley
warns Scrooge that he risks meeting the same fate and but he has been
given a chance at redemption through the visits of three spirits of
Christmas: Past, Present and Yet-to-Come.
Today we welcome the ghost of Christmas present. You can probably
imagine the scene. Things are shiny and loud. The Ghost is huge and
hairy, wearing some outlandish bathrobe and holding a torch. He has a
loud bellowing voice and calls out to Scrooge and the clocks chime, Look
upon Me! or in the original book “Come in! Come in! And know me Better!”
the Ghost beckons. We will come to learn this means we will have to
consider the all of society and not just ourselves. The Ghost appears to
Scrooge, as it appears to most of us, with all the lights and tinsel and
opulence and over abundance that fills our gluttonous society. The ghost
we meet is sitting upon a mountain of food, and treasure; a hoarder’s
paradise of luxury and privilege. This is the present we want to see, the
present we want to live in. In contrast, we are called by the Ghost into a
time of examination of our present reality, to look upon the world with eyes
awakened to the needs of others that are often hidden under the surface,
in the shadows of our lives and away from the public comforts.
As Scrooge is flown around the town by the Spirit (it looks a little like OLY
– grey and rainy) he sees goodness happening around him but mostly in
isolation from him. He sees snowball fights and laughter and the Cratchit
family giving thanks even through they have little. And there we meet Tiny
Tim. And Scrooge sees pain. Pain that he has had a part in playing
because of his stinginess and refusal to be in relationship with the world.
There is a darkness that has been in the shadows of our country that has
been pulled out into the light this year and it is unnerving and frightening
and has left many in our community feeling helpless and hopeless. The
Ghost of Christmas Present asks us what our response will be.
My prayer is that Christmas will come, and right this very second as the
song goes letting the Light of Christmas break through the darkest cloud
that seems to be settling above so many of us because the intrusion of
Christmas, the bursting forth of Jesus, the cosmic outpouring of love into
the world is exactly what we need right now.
And it will take hope, peace and love to fuel our transformation as a people
and a country as clearly as they did for Scrooge. Scrooge learned that all
humans are fellow passengers together in this life, all valued and
responsible to one another.
The Scrooge narrative and our biblical story can inspire us as we enter into
our own modern Christmas present. In the scripture today, King Herod is
the corrupted presence of power. He was a tyrant and a schemer who took
advantage of Roman political unrest to claw his way to the top. He was a
brutal and uncontrollable man. Once he was king, Herod launched
ambitious building programs, both in Jerusalem and the spectacular port
city of Caesarea. He restored the magnificent Jerusalem temple, which
was later destroyed by the Romans following a rebellion in A.D. 70, the
walls of which including the West Wall still remain.
Herod considered himself the King of the Jews and when he found himself
threatened by the birth of Jesus, we see in the conclusion of our reading
today that he set into motion the murder of countless children in a failed
attempt to destroy the Christ child he could became our Messiah, adding
an interesting political overture to the Christmas story. Indeed since the
beginning, Christ was a political, counter-cultural traveling rabbi who lived
and ministered to the oppressed and marginalized.
As our author states this week the suffering of Bethlehem is caused by
Herod, who lets fear pull him into “get them before they get us” (91) show
of power. This kind of pain can be seen and felt in many places in our
country today. Like Scrooge, we are called “look upon” the reality of the
world and acknowledge our role in the suffering of others. We are called in
the present to see how our actions/inactions impact those around us. This
is lesson Scrooge learns and “it cracks him open a bit and compassion
grows. This Sunday is about our own “looking upon” the world and
knowing that love is what we are made for… not fear.”
The story of King Herod reminds us that there have always been people
and institutions and forces trying to take away Creation’s hope for peace
on earth. So where does Love come from? From God in Jesus who has
always been saving us. At Christmas, God enters the realm of humanity
anew; setting in motion a string of events that will change the world.
Jim Wallis has written, “It is theologically and spiritually significant that the
Incarnation came to our poorest streets. That Jesus was born poor, later
announces his mission at Nazareth as “bringing good news to the poor,”
and finally tells us that how we treat “the least of these” is his measure of
how we treat him and how he will judge us as the Son of God, radically
defines the social context and meaning of the Incarnation of God in Christ.
And it clearly reveals the real meaning of
That God would chose incarnation as God’s means of entering into our
lives in the matter in which the Gospels describe, places the entire Christ
narrative in opposition to the establishment and expected orders of power
and show’s God’s special relationship with the poor and the Church’s
mandate to fight injustice and oppression and the hoarding of wealth,
water, technology, health, industry and information from the global society.
We must in our capitalistic economy examine our needs versus our wants.
A fourth century monk Basil of Caesarea said, “The bread which you have
set aside is the bread of the hungry; the garment you have locked away is
the clothing of the naked; the shoes which you let rot are the shoes of him
who is barefoot; those riches you have hoarded are the riches of the poor.”
We are called to be like the magi and the shepherds, seeking and looking
with our minds, bodies, souls and spirits for the miracles of today, of each
day, evidence of God with us and God in us. And in this time of waiting
during Advent we are told by the prophets to keep watch, to keep alert, to
not idly sip our hot chocolates and lattes at Starbucks. But to notice the
poor, the cold, the young, the old, and the lonely and to be moved with
compassion and to act in ways that shares our joy and belief in God’s
When we examine our present and our hand in the oppression of others,
then we can be redeemed like Scrooge through forgiveness, corrected
attitudes and actions and align ourselves with Love. Then we can shed the
selfishness that clings to us and the allure of material fulfillment that
pervades Christmas. Michael Hardin suggests that the commercialization
of Christmas is the symptom of the merging of an economy of exchange
with the birth of Christ. This is the most bitter irony for the One who came
to destroy economies of exchange is now identified intimately with it during
the holiday season. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianityischanging/2014/11/christmas-is-
Instead let us focus this Advent on giving Love to one another.
The Ghost of Christmas Present leaves Scrooge with one finally warning
before he leaves. Remember under his robe are 2 orphan children – want
and ignorance. There is plenty even of both of these in today’s society.
The Ghost warns that ignorance is the most dangerous. How will we use
our faith to address both of these?
Christmas Present exposes Scrooge’s ignorance and he is left seeing the
world more clearly. He learns that “Humankind was my business”, as
Marley said. “The common welfare [is] my business; charity, mercy,
forbearance, and benevolence, [are] all my business. The dealings of my
trade [are] but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my
Let us be about the important business of Christmas!