Christmas Present

Bible Text: Luke 1:39-55, Hebrews 10:5-10 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: A Christmas Carol | This morning we are continuing in our Advent sermon series titled, “A Christmas Carol” after the work by the same name written by Charles Dickens. Through this series we will be using the story of the main character Ebenezer Scrooge and the lessons he comes to learn about the meaning of Christmas. We will be coupling these stories with relevant Scripture passages and looking at how these things also apply for us today in our world.

Last week we looked at Christmas Past and the long-awaited promise of a savior, the Messiah. We talked about how we need to remember that God keeps the promises that God makes to humanity but does so according to God’s time and the greater plan that God has. We also talked about remembering the past but not becoming consumed by so that we miss out on the present and stop working towards the future.

Today we are moving on to Christmas Present. Now in the story of Scrooge, when visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present he is taken to see how others celebrate Christmas including his nephew Fred and his wife, his clerk Bob Cratchit and his family, as well as some others outside of his London home.

Scrooge’s nephew Fred and his wife are hosting a dinner party with several friends. While there, Scrooge hears his nephew explain that Scrooge should be pitied by them, not despised. Fred points out that even though Scrooge is rich, it doesn’t do him any good. The guests go on to play a guessing game using only Yes and No answers. The answer correctly guessed by Fred’s wife’s sister is Scrooge, which amuses everyone there…except for Scrooge of course.

The Ghost also takes Scrooge to the house of his faithful clerk, Bob Cratchit and his family where they too are preparing to celebrate the holiday. Scrooge gets to see how poor the Cratchits are living, but he also sees that despite this they are still happy at Christmas. With six children, Bob and his wife struggle to provide for the family. Scrooge also learns about the youngest son, Tiny Tim, who is frail and seems to be struggling with his health.

Scrooge asks the Ghost if Tiny Tim will live and survive these health issues. The Ghost tells him that unless something changes in the future, Tiny Tim will die. When Scrooge protests the Ghost reminds him of his own words, “If he be like to die he had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

Not exactly the images of Christmas that we typically think about huh. Well, maybe the image of Fred’s party with friends. This is the time of year we get together more and celebrate with those that we live. We share meals together, we exchange gifts, and we reminisce about happy memories.

But what about the Cratchits? Do we think of the poor and those in need during this holiday season, or are we more like Scrooge? I mean sure people give money to those people ringing the bells for the Salvation Army, or maybe donate some extra money or food to a local charity. But is there more we can learn from this story? Well before we get into that I’d like to step back and take a look at our Scripture lesson for today from the Gospel of Luke.

We enter the story with Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth who is married to Zechariah. At this point both Mary and Elizabeth are pregnant, Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John, later to be known as John the Baptist. And it says in our reading that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting to her that the child inside of Elizabeth leaped in her womb and that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

She then practically shouts at Mary in a joyful voice, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary responds to her by saying how blessed she is and how amazing God is, not just to her but to all the world. And this is a joyful time together for Mary and Elizabeth! This will be a memory that they both can look back on, at least for a time, with happiness and warmth. I feel like these passages of Scripture give us a memory that is on par with what we encounter with Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s celebration, as well as what we encounter with Bob Cratchit and his family. These were exciting and joyful moments, regardless of the exact circumstances that brought them into being.

So, when we come back to the question of what else we can learn from the story of Scrooge, especially through the lens of our Scripture reading for this morning, I think there are potentially several takeaways here. Right off the bat we can go back to the question of giving and if we are doing enough for others, especially during this time of year. For Scrooge, he had been penny-pinching and cutting corners and showing no compassion for his fellow man.

And in the end, he goes way beyond what one might expect with sharing his wealth with others. He pays the mortgage on the Cratchits’ home, makes Bob a partner and gives him a raise, and even becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. Scrooge really seems to give of himself in every way from his time, his talent, and his tithes if you will. Now it may seem like it’s easier to give so much when you have so much. But Jesus taught his disciples that it wasn’t about how much you give, but rather how much of yourself you give. $100 to some people is like $100,000 to others.

I have often wondered how much I would be actually be willing to give to another person in need. Could I be as equally generous as Scrooge was in regards to my own blessings and financial holdings? And I’ll be honest, I don’t know the answer. I’d like to think I would and I could…but if the opportunity presented itself…I just don’t know…

And then I look at Mary and think about what she was giving, how much of herself she was giving. Mary accepted the message that she was going to be carrying the son of God. Now I have never been pregnant, but just in watching the journey that my wife went through while carrying our son – that is a LOT to give of one’s self. Everything you do, everything you eat, just about everything in your life changes. Because you are now carrying a child, a defenseless life who is dependent on you for EVERYTHING!

And that’s just during the pregnancy. What about everything you give as a parent to your child? Just because he was the son of God doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t need to be fed in the middle of the night, or taught how to walk, or learn how to speak. Yes, Jesus was divine, God with us, but he was human too. Mary essentially gave her life to her child.

Another lesson that I think we can learn from this story, and it’s one that I am not sure was ever intended by the author but he’s not here for me to ask him, is learning to find happiness and joy in our lives instead of our things. Scrooge greatly helped the Cratchits and others, but did it ever sink in to him the happiness that the Cratchits’ were experiencing despite their lack of money? Despite their struggles in providing for their family, these parents came together and shared a joyful holiday with their children and still made wonderful memories.

And the truth is that while it does seem to be pointed out in the story when the Ghost of Christmas Present brought Scrooge to their home, it doesn’t seem to be a focal point as much after that. Not that I am saying that Scrooge should not have given Bob and his family what he did. But this lesson seems a little lost in the generosity of Scrooge. I could probably make the argument that it was easier for him to give so much because he had seen through the Cratchits that people can be happy even without great wealth. But it’s not really spelled out, at least that clearly, in the story as it closes.
Now with this potential lesson I was not really able to find a good way to tie it back to our Scripture reading. Just from the reading alone we don’t know much about the financial situations of Mary and Elizabeth. So I am not sure we can easily point to the same idea of finding happiness and joy despite poor financial circumstances. I do think we can recognize both women finding joy in their time together and realizing the blessings before them though. So maybe there is a bit of a connection there…

So of course, we now must come to the question of how this all relates to us today. And while I think that both of these lessons that we have looked at can still be applied to our world today, I almost wonder if they have been OVER applied. What I mean is that it seems like every year around this time we are given ample opportunity to give to those in need whether when we go through the checkout line or when we exit a store or through the many community events that we can engage with.

But does it come at us so much that we begin to be turned off by it? I suppose that is a question that differs for each and every person. It does cross my mind from time-to-time when I have been out running errands. I wonder if one charity or group is more worthy of my money, or which one uses the money the best ways or gives the most back to those in need and not just towards some executives six figure salary. Not to sound like a “Scrooge”, but with everything we hear about in the news it might make you wonder.

Now I am not going to campaign for one group of another here. I am not going to stand here and tell you all that you should give more and be happy with less in your own lives. We are all called to give of our time, our talents, and our tithes. But Jesus never said you need to give it all to The Salvation Army or St. Jude or even the Methodist Church. Jesus talked about giving of ourselves to help others, especially those in need. What matters here the most is that we are doing things to help other people, and not just with our money. We need to be helping others with our time and our talents too. And not just during this Advent and Christmas season, but year-round. Amen.