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A CHRISTMAS CAROL: CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Luke 2:1-20
19th December 2004

I have just re-read A Christmas Carol written by Charles Dickens nearly 150 years ago. Today Australia still knows child poverty, crippling credit re-payments, greedy businessmen, store managers threatening employees if they do not work next Sunday, Boxing Day. Likewise staff in cinemas that are opening Christmas Day have been told to leave their families and report to work. We should hear again its message. Dickens was inspired to write “a glowing and heart-moving story in which he would appeal to people’s essential humanity, a fruitful concern for the welfare of all men.”

We need to hear that message of social redemption and of Scrooge’s conversion and the conversion of all mankind. Peace on earth and goodwill to men depend upon the conversion of mankind which starts with the conversion of individuals. While individuals remain in old attitudes we will not see the re-distribution of this world’s resources or the poor of our city being adequately helped. We need to hear again the message of A Christmas Carol to help us realise that the true Spirit of Christmas does not lie in the acquiring or giving of things, even though many people need a spirit of generosity. Scrooge, rugged in his dressing gown, did not sleep that Christmas Eve. At midnight he heard a clanking, and into his room swept the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley. Marley came to warn Scrooge that three spirits would come for him. At the appointed hour the Spirit of Christmas Past arrived and took Scrooge into the cold night. They travelled overland to the village of his childhood. Scrooge saw old school companions, then himself reading a Christmas book he loved.

He saw himself joyously meeting of his sister Fran. She died later giving birth to her son, leaving Scrooge his only relative, his nephew Fred, to whom he had been so rude earlier in the day. So Scrooge visited early memories of Christmas from his childhood. A psychiatrist will recognise what was happening in Scrooge’s mind during the visit of the Spirit of Christmas Past. He was visiting scenes of earlier days that had influenced him, contrasting his earlier Christmas experiences with what he was dealing out to others. He was recalling his roots, retracing earlier events, reliving the formative influences on his life. The Spirit of Christmas Past left him back in his cold bedroom to await the second Spirit.

The Spirit of Christmas Present then came and took Scrooge on another visit, this time to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit and his family. As they travelled Scrooge remarked about how closing shops on Christmas Day deprived people of opportunities “to buy and cramp these people’s opportunities of innocent enjoyment.” At Bob’s, Mrs Cratchit’s was brightly dressed with ribbons on a gown that had been turned twice to get maximum wear. She was getting Christmas dinner ready helped by Peter and Belinda. Then two smaller children came into the kitchen. They were excited at the prospect of Christmas dinner. Then Martha arrived almost worn out from her work at a hat-maker’s sweatshop. Then more excitement as father came home. Bob Cratchit came in the door with their crippled son, Tiny Tim on his shoulders from attending Church. Tiny Tim was carrying his crutch, and said that Christmas Day meant the coming of Jesus who made the cripples walk.

At the Cratchit home, they said grace and Christmas dinner was brought it: a hot steaming goose that brought the children to fever pitch, with mashed potatoes, gravy, apple-sauce and stuffing! Then steam from the laundry filled the room as a hot pudding was pulled from the boiling copper. “A smell like washing day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating house and a pastry-cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! Mrs Cratchit entered, flushed but smiling proudly — with the pudding, like a speckled cannon ball, so hard and firm, blazing with ignited brandy, and with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”

What a Christmas feast! They were a poor family but they knew how to celebrate. As Scrooge watched, Bob toasted Christmas Day, then said: “I give you Mr Scrooge” and raised his glass to his absent employer. The unseen Scrooge looked with amazement, then embarrassment as he heard Mrs Cratchit who was unimpressed: “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon. Paying you only 15/- a week… such a odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr Scrooge. You know he is Robert. No one knows it better than you do, poor fellow!”. Nevertheless they toasted Scrooge’s health. The Spirit of Christmas Present then took Scrooge to visit other poor people: miners in tiny cottages, a lonely lighthouse keeper, sailors at sea, prisoners in jail, patients in hospital, children in want and ignorance, then to his nephew Fred who was laughing at Scrooge’s reply to him earlier that day “He said that Christmas was humbug ! .. Oh, I am sorry for him”.

Then their family struck up singing some Christmas carols and playing some family games. The Spirit of Christmas Present took Scrooge back home at midnight and disappeared. The Spirit of Christmas Past recalls us to our roots, makes us see the faith and beliefs we held in childhood, reveals the happiness we had when first we believed, and helps us see behind the cashbook and the journal the true values of life. The Spirit of Christmas Present makes us look at the poor, the lonely, those far from family and friends, and makes us think of the needs of others. Even in poverty, they had a joy about Christmas. They knew how to share family happiness and how to revel in a meal in a way many wealthy people do not. Economic poverty cannot quench the true spirit of Christmas if it is held in the hearts of believers. What can we learn from the Spirit of Christmas Present?

1. THE MAIN FOCUS IN CHRISTMAS IS GOD.

That is something the Scrooges of this world must learn: you cannot find the Christ child in the shadow of a cash-register! The air must ring with the carols of believers not with Xmas Muzak! Christmas is not a production of the Retailers Association. It is not a matter of profit and greed but of love and goodwill. Christmas centres upon God’s provision for the salvation of humankind. Christmas is the story of God breaking into human history to enable humankind to begin anew! Behind Bethlehem lies Eternity. Behind the gifts of the Wisemen, lies the gift of a Saviour. Behind the wonder and praises of the Shepherds, lies the alleluias of the angels and the stars. The main focus of Christmas lies in God’s love and gift.

2. OUR GREATEST BLESSING IS FAMILY AND FRIENDS.

Scrooge had no time for the only relative he had. His focus was entirely upon his business pursuits. But he had to learn that the greatest treasure we can posses lie in our relationships with those who love us. We take them for granted until we have them no more. God gives us family and friends and we must use this time of the year to build our relationships. And if we have no family or friends, adopt some! We are surrounded with people who have no-one else. You will soon find family!

3. HAPPINESS LIES NOT IN OUR POSSESSIONS.

When so much emphasis is given by retailers who promise happiness in return for the purchase of things, and all the subliminal emphases of the television and the printed page is directed to making us think that happiness lies in acquisition, it is hard to realise that we take none of it with us, that none of it ultimately satisfies, and that all of it perishes without a trace. We have to learn that happiness is of the Spirit. The Cratchit family show us Christmas happiness in their relationships, memories, hopes and loves.

4. THE GREATEST POVERTY IS POVERTY OF SPIRIT.

Scrooge stands for everyone who thinks they are rich because of the abundance of their possessions. They use other peoples’ money to buy what they do not need, to impress those who do not care. Their poverty is not obvious because they possess the greatest poverty of all, the poverty of the Spirit. Many feel guilty about not spending enough. But to be poor in spirit is the worst poverty of all.

5. CHRISTMAS STARTS WITH A POOR FAMILY.

Listen to the old story as if you have not heard it before for it bears in its truth the hopes of the world. “At that time the Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone then, went to register himself. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger — there was no room for them to stay in the inn. There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born — Christ the Lord. This is what will prove it to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great army of the heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us .” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary treasured all these things and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen, it had been just as the angels had told them.” Luke 2:1-20

Many Australians need to be troubled by the Spirit of Christmas Past and Present, so they see the real meaning of the coming of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. May they be troubled like Scrooge, and by some miracle of God’s grace, be converted like Scrooge from their narrowness, humanism, and greed to a life of faith, and care and generosity. May you see the need of people about you and see the difference that the true Spirit of Christmas brings.

To accept Christ as Lord and Saviour is to see in the coming of the Baby of Bethlehem the potential for your life and for the world. Accept Him as Lord and discover the secret of sins forgiven and life eternal, which is the purpose behind Christmas.

Gordon Moyes

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.