Has anyone seen Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this Christmas season? I was able to watch the end of it a couple of weeks ago. It’s the story with ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future—and of course Ebenezer Scrooge. The last words are memorable. “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” That’s how Charles Dickens’ story about Ebenezer Scrooge and his overnight conversion from grumpy malcontent to jolly humanitarian finishes. When Dickens wrote his story in 1843, he couldn’t have imagined how ubiquitous his little parable and its protagonist would become. Actors as diverse as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Muppets have presented adaptations of this “ghost story of Christmas.” Here’s the thing: Even though Scrooge ends up amending his ways by making a generous donation to charity, reconciling with his nephew, and sending the prize turkey to Bob Cratchit’s home as well as giving him a long overdue raise, we remember Scrooge as the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” that Dickens introduces at the beginning of the story. Right? We ignore Scrooge’s Christmas Eve conversion and focus instead on what he used to be, a people-hating, old miser. When you call someone a “Scrooge” it’s not because you see in them a wonderful transformation that inspires us all to reach a new, more charitable, more humane, a more Christian view on others and God’s work in this world. We keep Scrooge stuck as the person he starts out as—the same person Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life” calls “Old Man” Potter, “a warped, frustrated, old man.” Now we don’t care if that cheats a literary character out of his due, but the truth is we have a hard time believing anyone can change. We tend to live our lives according to maxims, such as “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “a leopard doesn’t change its spots” or “there’s nothing new under the sun.” How little hope we hold out for others, and for ourselves.
But that’s no way to live. Instead, keep your hope alive. Don’t fail to be inspired by good news. We can’t let all the bad stuff that happens keep us locked in to a view of others that sees them in despairing colors. No matter what has happened, tomorrow is a new day. Risk it for what’s good. Bet on what’s right. Keep pessimism at bay. Fight for whoever needs compassion. Raise your voice for those who need peace. Keep your heart inclined toward those who seek a better way. It often appears the world has more of the old Scrooge in it than the new one. But God’s love hasn’t expired. Real faith still has its say. Tonight, we hear that this is exactly so. Tonight we listen to an angelic announcement that something new has happened, that our world has changed, that life will no longer be the same. “Do not be afraid; behold, I bring you good news of a great joy,” says our Gospel. Do not be afraid. We tend to think this is said only because the shepherds are freaking out over the appearance of an angel. Scripture says they’re “terrified.” But maybe it’s something angels always say to shepherds, and to all of us, who need to hear good news. Do not be afraid. Stop living in fear. Trust the Lord to bring you good news. There’s more joy in our lives than too often we’re accustomed to realizing. I don’t know about you but I know I let go of fears and anxieties when I get some good news. What’s amazing is that when you get back to your joyful you, you realize how hard you’ve been holding onto the unhappy you. You’ve actually been putting in the work to keep you tense, upset, unhappy, discouraged. You’ve wrapped yourself up in something that doesn’t come with a nice bow on top. But unwrap that burden or fear or pain or anger, and out comes the gift of joy again, the gift of peace. It doesn’t take much to untie ourselves from such bondage. This is why when baby Jesus grows up, he will become famous for saying the kingdom of heaven has come near, or is right next to you, or is in you. He knew how close angels were. He knew how near God’s healing power is. He knew what made for peace. He knew your faith will make you well. He didn’t give it up for anything, or because of anyone. Talk about a hopeful person.
Must have come from his birth. After all, there really wasn’t anything much to it. In fact, it was less than most others. But clearly Christ didn’t let such lack steal his joy. Perhaps when people have so much or grow up expecting a lot to come their way, little setbacks seem like a big deal. We get all anxious when our A student comes home with a B+. We think we’re losing out if we don’t have a car with rear driver video. But I’ve tried that video thing. There’s no way I’m going to trust a tiny black and white screen with those pong video dash lines on it to tell me how close I am to another car or a cement wall. I will use my own eyes, thank you very much. A lot of us want external things because of the way we think they will make us feel. And we won’t be satisfied until they’re ours. We want a successful career because we think we will feel fulfilled. And we won’t feel good about ourselves until it happens. We want a different body because we think it would make us feel happy and loved. And we refuse to believe we’re lovable until we get it. We want a relationship because we believe it would relieve our loneliness. And we will stay on the hunt until we find it. We try to pile on all these things, and yet we’re still the same person underneath. Adding more doesn’t always mean getting more. Adding more doesn’t mean being more. These things can distract us from seeing how rich God’s love is for us already. Look again at how much you are already. Find the wealth of good tidings that surround you. Let go of anxiousness about whether you’re getting what and who you’re “supposed” to get. Build up the kingdom of God within yourself. Accept Christ Jesus as the greatest gift you can get and let Christ’s grace transform you from the inside out. There was nothing to add to the Bethlehem baby. Didn’t have his home, nor a real bed. Just some swaddling clothes, and the warmth of the love of his parents. So little and yet it added up to so much. Don’t be distracted by the world’s tinsel. Don’t be doubtful of the nearness of the kingdom. Hold onto hope in the power of goodness. Keep faith with the Lord. And keep Christmas well. May God bless us, everyone.
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