The Redemption of Scrooge
Malachi 3: 1-4 & Matthew 24: 36-44
I wonder… if we were to find ourselves in Scrooge’s position- having been taken by the hand and led off by the Ghost of Christmas Past- I wonder… if each one of us wouldn’t find a scene like this buried deep in our minds. Pushed into its shadows. A memory, that even years later (decades even) is still raw, still elicits a reaction in spite of ourselves. A memory of love lost, an opportunity missed, a deep regret.
If you were to read on to the end of chapter two in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, the Ghost (being rather merciless) would show Scrooge a Christmas of Belle’s years later as she is surrounded by her children and her husband in their humble/active home. Practically a post card for happiness and busy children and contentment. Scrooge grieves it, saying, “What would I not have given to be one of them!” He watches,
taking in the love and the joy that Belle offers her family… and thinks, “and yet to have been man enough to know its value.”
Hindsight made a fool of Scrooge. Of his pride, of his need to be right, or to be his own savior… Hindsight can be humbling and even cruel at times- making fools of us all.
Our Scripture passage today from the prophet Malachi, shares this troubling lesson on hindsight. Much of Malachi is written as a series of disputations, or formal disagreements. Picture a really uncomfortable HR meeting where co-workers are airing grievances against one another. The prophet Malachi (who’s name means “My messenger”) is acting as a mediator or a go between in this situation. On the one side: The People of Israel are saying “God isn’t fulfilling expectation.” Mainly that God has not yet exercised enough divine judgment against their enemies/ that God hasn’t yet avenged them from their struggles! But, in rebuttal, God assures them that the Day of the Lord will come – just in God’s timing and in God’s own wondrous and mysterious ways.
The Prophet Malachi goes on to invite the People to consider honestly if they are ready for such justice – ready for this time of judgment. Malachi points out that the complaints of the People of Israel smacked of self-righteousness. He reminds them that on the Day of the Lord they too shall meet with the Refiner’s fire. Malachi held a mirror up for the People of Israel, so that they might see their own acts of injustice and apathy and ignorance… which are just as dishonoring to God as any wrong doing by an enemy.
The People called for the coming of the Lord safely assuming that they would be like spectators!
Verse 3 states, God’s justice…”will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness…”
Now, when we hear language like: Day of the Lord, justice, righteousness, judgment and fire… I don’t want you to be stuck thinking about hellfire and brimstone. God’s judgment is not solely punitive. And God’s judgment is never about our very human concept of fairness or making sure people get what they deserve- like “Karmic justice”. Judgment is bringing about God’s will for this Creation – shifting this world toward love.
Justice/Judgment is not an end, but a place of restoration- it’s about being made whole and moving forward.
Think about Malachi’s language of the Refiner’s fire.
When gold or silver (or any other ore) is unearthed- the valuable mineral is mixed in with lots of dirt and garbage. And so it’s all heated to burn away the junk, leaving only that which is valuable. Fire purifies. We know this. But… consider this: “When silver is refined, it is treated with carbon or charcoal, preventing the absorption of oxygen and resulting in its sheen…” A good silversmith, even in the days of Malachi, would have known that the refining process is complete only when they can see their own image reflected in the now mirror-like surface of the metal.
As Genesis tells us, we each bear the image of God, the imago Dei.
Moments of fire and judgment and purification in our own lives… they are not meant to destroy us/ guilt us/ burden us… they are meant to restore the divine in us.
Scrooge’s tale is ultimately one of restoration. Here is a man invited to consider his choices. Invited to look the mistakes of his past in the eye. In doing so, he grieves/ he is humbled/ he laments/ he burns. He burns away what is muddying up God’s image and getting in the way of him bearing love to the world. Pride and greed, sorrow and isolation. It is burned away.
Scrooge’s judgment is to reckon with the choices that lead him so far astray.
It’s not pretty at times. There is some kicking a screaming, some doubting and tears…
But let us remember that judgment is not a punishment, it is not an end. Judgment is a means and a way.
Advent is a season of purification. For leaning into this uncomfortable process of judgment.
We, like Scrooge, are asked to consider our choices and acknowledge all that we have allowed to get in the way of our purpose- to bear God’s image and love to the world.
Reflection and hindsight might indeed make us fools, but because of Christ (because of what happened at Christmas) Bah Humbug can be conquered/ peace can be found.
The Nativity story is filled with flawed/ unexpected/ or seemingly damaged people. Shepherds- social outcasts, people with a very tarnish reputation. Magi – mystics, who were outside of the accepted religious practices of the day. Mary and Joseph- humble people who were just as human as the rest of us… and yet they were all invite to witness Christ’s birth. Not because of their perfection. But simply because God loves us all and has an existence of joy and love and hope and peace planned for us all.
In a little while we will all share in the act of Holy Communion, and as Advent is a season of purification, I implore you to be judged. Open your heart for reflection and let God in. For with our Lord we are brave enough to reckon/ with our Lord we are bold enough to reach out for inner peace. With our Lord, we can once again be made new.