The Scrooges of Christmas

December 3, 2012

Bah, Humbug,  Scrooge is like Bond, everyone has a favorite.  For some there is no Scrooge like Alistair Sim, he was the actor who portrayed Scrooge in the clip we just saw. He also reprised the role in an Oscar winning short film in 1970.  Maybe it is Albert Finney in the 1970 film simply entitled “Scrooge”.  For others it might be George C. Scott from the remake done in 1984 or Henry Winkler in the 1979 “An American Christmas Carol”.  My favorite was Michael Caine from the Muppets Christmas Carol.
And most of us have watched one of the over 20 movie adaptations or television specials of “A Christmas Carol”.  How many have read the book?  I have to admit that I haven’t.
The book, written by Charles Dickens was first released on December 19 1843, the Novella was met with critical success however the author was disappointed with it’s commercial success over the first couple of years it was in print, and yet it has never been out of print since that first edition.  And the first movie was made in 1901 and a new version with Jim Carrey was released just a couple of years ago, and it’s interesting that Jim has had the opportunity to play both Scrooge and the Grinch.  
In his book “A Christmas Carol”  Richard Michael Kelly writes “Dickens’ Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England, but, while it brings to the reader images of light, joy, warmth and life, it also brings strong and unforgettable images of darkness, despair, coldness, sadness and death.”
A couple of highlights for those who have never experienced the movie or the book.  The story opens on a “cold, bleak, biting” Christmas Eve in 1843 exactly seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley.  Ebenezer Scrooge is described as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence. He hates Christmas, calling it “humbug”.  It is on that night that Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of his dead partner who warns him to change his ways or end in misery as Marley had.  Scrooge is then visited by three ghosts the Ghost of Christmas Past who reminds him of the man he used to be, of lost love and missed opportunity.  The Ghost of Christmas Present then reveals the goodness of people to Scrooge as they celebrate Christmas.  Even those with very little to celebrate, including his clerk Bob Cratchit whose sick son, Tiny Tim is unable to get treatment because of the poor pay that his father receives from Scrooge.  And finally Scrooge is visited by Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Here Scrooge witnesses the death of Tiny Tim and his own death where local business men say they will attend the funeral only if there is a luncheon. Of course you all know that Scrooge wakes up from his dreams a changed man, embraces Christmas and seeks to make the world a better place. 
Each year as I watch different people’s reactions to the Christmas season it gets me thinking about Scrooges.  And I decided that you didn’t have to look like this to be a Scrooge, (Alastair Sim) or like this (Jim Carey) or even like this (Scrooge McDuck).  And the more I thought about it the more I realized that there are all kinds of Scrooges out there.  As a matter of fact there are Scrooges who don’t even know they are Scrooges.  And if you told them they were a Scrooge they would probably be personally offended. 
So as I begin this message today may I categorically state that I’m not preaching to anyone here specifically, that the Scrooges I’m talking about are represented in society as a whole and in previous churches I have pastored but by no stretch of the imagination should they be seen as representative of anyone presently attending Cornerstone.  So if you feel like perhaps, by some stretch of the imagination that I’m referring to you this morning, I’m not.  You just a little bit sensitive, which of course is a nicer word then paranoid.
Today if you are a person who just doesn’t seem to truly get into the Christmas spirit there is a good chance that you would be called a Grinch, from Dr. Seuss’s book the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  But long before there was a Grinch there was a Scrooge.  So who are some of the Scrooges that we see each Christmas?
1) Classic Scrooge This is the Scrooge that Dickens was writing about.  It wasn’t Christmas itself that the Scrooge was upset with it was anything that made life more enjoyable.  Christmas seemed to be the culmination of all that was happy and joyful in London and it seemed to be personified in Bob Cratchit.  And so The Classic Scrooge isn’t opposed to Christmas per se instead it is all that Christmas represents.
People like this have kept the milk of human kindness bottled up so long that it has indeed curdled. They’ve been seasick on the entire journey of life.  Robert Lynd made this observation “There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.”
Ebenezer Scrooge was a classic Scrooge, he hated Christmas for the same reason as the Grinch hated Christmas but we’re not too sure what all of those reasons were. 
The book and the movie give us some hints, at one point Scrooge says Christmas is “a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!”
But like the Grinch the most likely reason of all may have been that Scrooge’s heart was two sizes too small.”   As evidenced by this statement of his, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
Scrooge would probably have gotten along well with Samuel Goldwyn who said “You’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.”
Now I know and you know that there isn’t anyone here today like that. But if there was I would say “Lighten up!”  Start to enjoy life because you won’t get out of it alive.  Remember what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
There are all kinds of reasons to get uptight and cranky over Christmas and they are all choices.  Don’t let Christmas get you down, enjoy the season.
But not every Scrooge is a general everyday classic Scrooge some are specialized Scrooges  for example there are the 2) Secular Scrooges.  You can recognize this type of Scrooge by their language.  They never say Merry Christmas: it’s always Seasons Greetings or Happy Holidays. They don’t put up a Christmas tree they put up a holiday tree,their idea of a classic Christmas carol is Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer or Frosty the Snow Man and they cringe at the very sight of a nativity scene.
These folks aren’t opposed to Christmas as a matter of fact they seem to embrace the holiday almost in its entirety. Almost.  It’s not Christmas they have a problem with its how the church has tried to make something religious out Christmas.  They want to go to their Christmas parties and get paid on their Christmas holidays and send out Christmas Cards, which of course don’t actually include the word Christmas anywhere in them. They buy and give and receive Christmas presents, they decorate their homes with Christmas lights but they won’t acknowledge that the first part of Christmas is Christ.
Sometimes we get the feeling that these people are in the majority, but you know there really aren’t a lot of these people out there. Not individually.  What there are though are bureaucrats who work for Government offices and corporations who have decided that it is their job to protect the feelings of those who might not be Christians.  And so schools are told they can’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and shops and store don’t put up nativities any more and sales clerks are told to avoid the “C” word and to say things like “Have a nice holiday” instead of “Have a Merry Christmas.” 
There was an interesting interview in 2005 with Ben Stein and in the interview Stein states “Next confession: I am a Jew and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautifully lit-up, bejeweled trees “Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are — Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they’re slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we’re all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year.”
But most people understand what Christmas is all about (Clip about Christmas) and even new Canadians who don’t share our Christian heritage know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, regardless of what it’s called.  And that even with the sanitized “Happy Holiday” the question then has to be asked “What holiday?”
Dave Berry wrote “To avoid offending anybody,the school dropped religion altogether and started singing about the weather. At my son’s school, they now hold the winter program in February and sing increasingly non-memorable songs such as “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and—this is a real song—”Suzy Snowflake,” all of which is pretty funny because we live in Miami. A visitor from another planet would assume that the children belonged to the Church of Meteorology.”
On the other side of the coin are the people I would call the 3) Religious Scrooges.  You know who I’m talking about.  They would go to the other extreme and take everything secular out of Christmas.  For them Christmas is about Christ and nothing else.   If it was up to them they’d have Santa get a real job, fire the elves and put the reindeer in a zoo.
Now I know that Jesus is the reason for the season, ok don’t get me wrong on that.  But hang on to your chairs cause in 2012 he’s not the only reason for the season.  There are social reasons; people use this as an opportunity to connect with family and friends they’ve been out of touch with.  There are religious reasons, don’t confuse this with Jesus being the reason for the season.  Christmas is a time that people are God aware or at least religion aware.  There will be thousands of people attending church in Bedfordand Hammonds Plains on Christmas Eve and it will have nothing to do with a relationship they have with God and everything to do with how they perceive their religious obligation. 
There are even economic reasons for the season.  I’m not sure what would happen to the retail sector of our economy without Christmas.  I’m not sure that people would buy the same amount of stuff the rest of the year. The money that is spent not only on gifts but on decorations, travel and food is staggering.    Is that bad?  A stimulated economy is good news for most of us.  And it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “People say that Christmas is too commercialized.  But I have never found it that way.  If you spend money to give people joy, you are not being commercial.  It is only when you feel obliged to do something about Christmas that the spirit is ruined.”
2000 years after the birth of Christ it is virtually impossible to separate the true meaning of Christmas, that is celebrating His birth, from all of the cultural, social and religious traditions that have come together to form what we think of as Christmas. 
And then there are the 4) Pious Scrooges.  These are the people that would do away with Christmas in a heartbeat.  But not for the same reason that Religious Scrooges would do away with Christmas.   They look at some of the pagan roots of Christmas,and a lot of how we celebrate Christmas does have background outside of Christianity. 
They tell us that date of Christmas was originally used in pagan celebrations in Rometo celebrate the passing of the winter solstice. And they are right, the ancients knew that by this time in December that the shortest day and longest night had passed,and with that came the promise of longer days,shorter nights and eventually spring.  Around 270 a.d. Emperor Aurelia capitalized upon the heathen worship of the sun and declared December 25th as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.   But when Christians celebrate this December 25th they won’t be doing to recognize the promise of longer days or to remember the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.  
They would tell you that early pagan cultures from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Celts used evergreens in their celebrations to signify eternal life.  But when we put up our trees it will harkens back to a Christmas Eve about the year 1513. When Martin Luther was walking through the woods on the starlit night he thought the stars looked as if they were shining on the branches.  When he arrived home,Martin Luther placed a small fir tree inside his house.  He decorated it with lighted candles.
In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul addressed the issue of meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Some believers felt that the meat was impure because of its pagan beginnings.  It had been offered up to false gods.  Paul said 1 Corinthians 8:4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God.
 And I guess that’s my thought, we can dwell on what December 25th used to represent or we can focus on what it’s supposed to represent. Are we celebrating the birth of the unconquered sun or the birth of the unconquered Son?
Well I got through those four and had to ask myself “where do I fit in?” Because the reality is that I’m a little bit of a Scrooge myself.  If I wasn’t married with a family my house would remain dark,nary a card would be sent and on Christmas Day I would eat a pizza. 
Which is probably why I enjoyed Christmas in Australia, very few people decorated their homes and for Christmas dinner we had a BBQ then we went to the beach. Although my favourite Christmas tradition was when we’d all pile into my Volkswagen Convertible put the roof down,stick a Christmas tape in the stereo and go look at the houses that were decorated.
But I’m not the way I am because I don’t like Christmas or don’t approve of Christmas is just,well I’m one of those 5) Apathetic Scrooges.  I just don’t get excited over all the hoop-la that surrounds the Christmas season.  But I think it’s nature’s way of finding balance because my sister starts decorating and getting ready for Christmas shortly after Easter, well maybe she waits until the first of November. 
So what’s the answer?  2000 years ago Jesus Christ was born after Mary and Joseph traveled a great distance to get to the town his family was from. On that first Christmas there was a star and there was singing and gift giving.  The shepherds were told to rejoice and to celebrate.  And you know and I know Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th,and we know that there have been abuses of Christmas both past and present.  But I don’t think it’s wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  He came to offer us the greatest gift we could ever receive,the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  And it all started in a manger in Bethlehemand that’s worth celebrating.
And to finish we have another quote from Ben Stein about Christmas “This is a revolutionary, stupendous freeing of the human spirit. This is why Christmas is such a joyous time for people, whether Jews or Christians, or anyone else, who want to believe that we humans can be forgiven and go on to lead lives of triumph no matter what has happened in our past.”