The Redemption of Scrooge
Zephaniah 3: 14-20 & Mark 13: 24-37
Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, stood outside the Cratchit’s window that Christmas day.
The Spirit watched on nodding his approval, seeing a family living so happily in the moment. And Scrooge watched pondering something just out of reach of his understanding. Just before that dinner scene ended, Mrs. Cratchit proudly sets the Christmas pudding on the table for them to admire. A tiny mound, decorated carefully with holly. The children all ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Mr. Cratchit told his wife that it was her greatest baking achievement since their marriage. All while Mrs. Cratchit blushed and happily squirmed under their praise.
No one thought to comment on the fact that it was a small pudding for such a large family. For as Dickens’ wrote, “It would have been flat heresy to do so.”
They were just happy for its mere existence.
Scrooge watched on as Mrs. Cratchit served the pudding, and as his clerk held Tiny Tim’s hand. It was to Scrooge’s apparent amazement, that he saw a father who loved his son, wanted him to be close.
As I was telling the children this morning during our Kid’s Talk, it’s Gaudete Sunday. The third week of Advent is a time of being surprised by joy. In Advent we spend time acknowledging that we live in a bleak world, one that needs Jesus. We spend time in the stillness and in the darkness waiting and praying for God to finally arrive. We cry out for a heavenly light to come and illuminate the world. A season of lament. But on Gaudete Sunday, we, like Scrooge, press our noses up to the glass, and get a peek at Christmas morning/ at promises fulfilled. Of what it is for light to be let in. We see and say, “Gaudete!” as a sort of carrot encouraging us onward through this journey of Advent.
Our Prophet reading this morning from Zephaniah is particularly beautiful.
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; Shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart… The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies… you shall fear disaster no more.” (jumping around Zephaniah 3: 14-15) So beautiful, in fact, that we might be tempted to go home and read the rest of the book looking for more of this assurance. But, there is a reason that this passage is our’s on Gaudete Sunday, it is a flash of light in an otherwise dreary book.
Up until this point, Zephaniah has detailed a story of spiritual and political oppression perpetrated by corrupt Judean leaders. His duty as a prophet was to bring these leaders and the whole population of Judah a warning against such injustices. Zephaniah speaks to a world where the oppressed are fear-filled and ashamed, while the powerful are haughty and have consistently thumbed their noses at divine correction. But the prophet assures them that God will make right these unjust systems, that God will heal the shame of the people.
Now, it’s likely that not many of us readily identify with this label of the “oppressed person”. We don’t generally think that we live “fear-filled” or “ashamed” lives. And perhaps that’s true, we do not live within systems of obvious oppression. On the contrary, most of the time we may enjoy the privilege, opportunities, prosperity and freedoms of Middle America.
But our bliss is not permission to be oblivious.
When I look out the window here, I will not see a solider with a rifle over his shoulder as he keeps watch and keeps “peace”, I won’t see a tank stationed in front of City Hall. But years ago, while I was on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic…that was what I saw/ that was the Dominican people’s reality everyday.
This week at Bible study we talked about the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. A song about the light of God filling the streets of this quiet little town- but nowadays if you were to visit Bethlehem you would have to go through two military check points as you travel between Jerusalem in Israel to the West Bank of Palestinian territory. A distance of maybe 8 miles.
But, let’s bring it a little closer to home.
Last Sunday during our Joys and Concerns we prayed for four friends of this congregation who were undergoing cancer treatments. We prayed for people who were stressed- fearing not having health benefits come next year. We prayed for students who felt overwhelmed by the enormity of their mounting student debt.
This week my mother, an elementary school teacher in Flint, texted me in the middle in her reading lesson to let me know that the school was being evacuated for fear of a bomb- and could I please pray.
Our bliss is not permission to be oblivious.
Oppression/fear/shame it is all around us. In the world, in our communities in our hearts and homes.
Advent it s time for acknowledging its frustrating hold on the world and look to the coming Lord for answers.
Twice, Zephaniah tells the fear-filled masses that God is with them and that God will not abandon them. And this message awakens the people with hope.
John Calvin said that, “…when fear prevails in our hearts we are as it were lifeless, so that we cannot raise even a finger to do anything: but when hope animates us, there is a vigor in the whole body, so that alacrity (meaning cheerfulness) appears everywhere.”
It takes looking the challenging/ scary things of this world in the eye to understand hope. Only when we acknowledge just how much we need Christ in this world can we understand the importance of God’s promises. Promises that invite us to rejoice!
“Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; Shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart… The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies… you shall fear disaster no more.”
At Christmas, we are reminded that God is with us. We are reminded that God promises to bring about a world free of fear, shame and injustice… And at Christmas we are reminded that we are part of making that world a reality.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, just before his time ran out with Scrooge, showed him the doom of mankind- As Dicken’s described them: ragged, yellowing, wolf-ish children named Ignorance and Want. Beings that meet Scrooge’s gaze in accusation and refused to look away… The Spirit warned Scrooge not to deny them/ not to ignore them… But to live in defiance towards them/ to starve them of their hold.
This week a friend described for me anew why we light the candles of the Advent Wreath. It’s not a countdown to Christmas, it isn’t necessarily symbolic of Christ’s light entering the world. We light the candles as an assault against the night. We light them in defiance of oppression and fear/ignorance and want. It is a way of laughing in the face of evil. Of rejoicing in the midst of grief. It is an act that is certain/ standing solidly in the promises of God. Decidedly joyful.
The Cratchit family, dared to rejoice even in their poverty. Bob Cratchit pulled Tiny Tim close to his side/ held his hand even knowing that the lose may be coming.
Hope, certainty, love… joy. These are things that Scrooge did not understand. Not until he saw them modeled for him/ taught to him.
Children of God, I encourage you this Christmas season to be like the Cratchits. People of joy, even in the midst of hardship. People who do not take what they have for granted. People who model a certainty in the promises of God. For that is joy.