Sunday, December 18, 2016

"God Bless Us, Every One!"

“There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…” 
– From It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Is there a place for ghost stories in the Christmas traditions?

It might be hard to believe but this was actually a common practice in the Victorian Era Christmas traditions of the yesteryear.  Huddled around the fireplace in the dark of winter with little else to be done outside, it wouldn’t be totally unheard of for friends and families to share tales of haunting spirits as part of their Christmas festivities.

More importantly, a Christian might ask:  Is there a place for discussing such things as part of a Gospel sermon?

Finding Truth in Myth

It is my belief that the Bible, as the Word of God, is the ultimate Truth.  However, I believe that bits and pieces of that same Truth can be found in a variety of places.  Delighting in the beauty of the natural world, reveling in the scientific miracles discovered by mankind, and, yes, even being entertained by a work of fiction can yield a portion of the Truth laid on in God’s Word in a very impactful way.  At the very least, these can serve to pique the interest of the unbeliever toward learning of the Truth.

The Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkein said the following of man-made works of fiction:

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

Recall, the Apostle Paul used mythological deities worshiped by Romans to share the Truth with non-believers on Mars Hill in Athens (Acts 17:22-31).  Jesus Himself used parables, fictional stories, to relate Truth about God’s Kingdom on numerous occasions.
Taking this powerful teaching method into consideration, let’s examine this classic tale through the lens of a believer, looking for the deeper Truth yet to be revealed


It’s a cold, bleak Christmas Eve when we are first introduced to Ebenezer Scrooge – and he is not given a very flattering description.  The character is called a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”  Much is revealed about Scrooge’s miserly character as he works in his counting house.  He mistreats his only employee, Bob Cratchit, by overworking and underpaying him.  When Scrooge’s nephew Fred invites him to a Christmas dinner the old miser scoffs, calling the holiday a “humbug”.   Scrooge turns away men seeking a donation to provide for the poor, telling them that the poor ought to die and “decrease the surplus population!

As Scrooge prepares to lock up for the evening he grudgingly allows Bob Cratchit to have Christmas Day off.

We can gather the miserable state of Scrooge’s life based on his interactions with others:  He loved money above all else.  He was completely selfish, lacking in any form of compassion for others.

Obviously, these are traits condemned within God’s Word!

Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV)  Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.  This too is meaningless.

Zechariah 7:10  …Do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner,  or the poor, and  let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.

Marley’s Ghost

Later that same night Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who has been dead for seven years.  Marley, a “dreadful apparition”, is bound in a series of heavy, entangling chains.  These shackles, Marley states, were forged during his lifetime of greed and he is now doomed to bear them as he wanders eternally.

Scrooge, stunned at Marley’s eternal punishment points out that in life he was always a good man of business, only to be sharply rebuked by the specter.

“Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

How often do we find ourselves caught up in the bustle of our earthly life and forget our true purpose as Christians?

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.

Our mission on Earth is not to attain wealth or seek all the pleasures this life has to offer.  We cannot allow ourselves to forget our true calling as Christians!

While the Bible’s recorded eternal punishment awaiting unrepentant sinners in the afterlife may not completely match up to that of Marley’s Ghost, the phantasm is certainly a powerful metaphor for the fact that our earthly deeds follow us into the afterlife and, like Marley, can entangle us in condemnation.

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Galatians 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Marley concludes his visit by telling Scrooge that he will be haunted by three additional spirits and that through them the old has a chance of avoiding the suffering Marley himself will forever suffer.  Scrooge falls into a troubled sleep.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Scrooge awakens at the stroke of midnight to the eerie illumination of Ghost of Christmas Past.  The childlike spirit transports Scrooge through various scenes of his former life as a lonely boy and later as a happy young man working for the jollily doting Mr. Fezziwig.  Their journey culminates in Scrooge witnessing the heartbreaking moment in which his unhappily neglected fiancée Belle leaves him as he loves material wealth more than her.  At that point of his life, Scrooge was already exhibiting the avarice he would continue to practice into his latter years.

Much like we read of time and again throughout the Bible, hardening of the heart leads to wretchedness.

Proverbs 28:14 Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Ephesians 4:17-19 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Just as Scrooge threw away a chance at true happiness in favor of materialism, the life of one who never seeks God is doomed to misery despite the temporary pleasures they enjoy in worldliness.  While Scrooge abandoned the love of Belle, if one hardens their heart toward God, they - all the more tragically - willingly forsake the love of Christ!

Scrooge laments his misspent past, crying out to the Ghost:

“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.” 

“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”

Scrooge bitterly lashes out against the Spirit, covering its head with the trumpet it carried, extinguishing the light atop its head.  Finding himself once more alone in the darkness of his chamber, Scrooge goes to sleep.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

As the clock strikes one, Scrooge wakes to find a “jolly Giant” in his chamber who happily bids him welcome. After introducing himself, the Ghost of Christmas Present whisks Scrooge away to witness scenes of Christmas celebration.

In the midst of this, Scrooge comments on the fact there are those who use the guise of charity to take further disadvantage the innocent poor, insinuating that the Ghost approves such wickedness.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

Likewise, many do wicked deeds in the name of Christ; False teachers, religious heretics who use God’s Word to discriminate and persecute, some of which invoke God’s name as pretense for their own ill will, even others which genuinely believe and spread false doctrine…  These  will be held accountable!

Matthew 7:19-23  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

The Ghost takes Scrooge to the home of his employee, Bob Cratchit, and his family where Scrooge witnesses the poverty he is directly responsible for.  He also sees Tiny Tim, the Cratchits’ youngest son who is sickly and crippled, but exhibits high spirits despite his infirmity.

When Scrooge feels compassion for the boy, the Ghost turns Scrooge’s reminds him of his words of uncaring apathy toward the poor.  The spirit then takes him to witness more scenes of Christmas merriment, including the house of his nephew who as the Crachit family before raises a toast to Scrooge.

Scrooge notices that the spirit’s hair has turned gray, as by this point, Christmas present is almost at its end.  Scrooge also notices something disturbing lurking beneath the Ghost’s robe.  The weary spirit reveals two ragged, emaciated children, pitiful, yet dreadful in appearance.  Scrooge inquires:

 “Spirit! are they yours?” 

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

We remember that Cain sarcastically asked God in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

To the Christian, the answer to this question is “Yes!”

Even if the rest of society rejects the poor and hopeless, Christians have an obligation to love and care for their need!

Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so.

1 Corinthians 10:23-24 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.

1 Timothy 6:18  Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share…
After rebuking Scrooge for his failure to provide for the needs of the unfortunate, the Ghost of Christmas Present disappears, and Scrooge comes beholds “a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.”

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

The most terrifying of the three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come remains silent in spite of Scrooge’s pleadings for clarity.  Fearfully, the phantom leads Scrooge past business men discussing someone who has recently deceased, scoffing at the poor soul’s demise.  The identity of the dead man remains a mystery, but the spirit silently reveals that the future brings not just one death, for Tiny Tim has succumbed to his illness and passed away as well, to Scrooge’s despair.

Later, when they enter a graveyard Scrooge inquires just who the anonymous dead man from before might be, the spirit merely points to a neglected grave bearing the name of none other than Ebenezer Scrooge.

In sincere terror an earnest pleading, Scrooge tries to reason with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope...  Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach… Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”

The Redemption of Scrooge

After the fright of his life, Scrooge awakens once more to find that the last spirit dissolved into his bedpost.  Scrooge eagerly arose, a man changed in heart with time left to change his deeds!

“Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!”

Thus we see a complete turnaround in the life of Scrooge!  The old miser was transformed into a kind-hearted man of charity and neighborly love.  He gives to the poor, visits his nephew, and starts to treat the Cratchit family with loving care.

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

Like Scrooge we are presented with an opportunity toward redemption!  We can also go through a glorious transformation.

Ephesians 4:22-23 That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…

The Holy Spirit:  Our Own Spectral Guide to Redemption

At first, one might think that unlike Scrooge we will have no well-meaning ghostly visitors to help guide us onto the path to redemption.  However, we do have at least one Spirit we can put our faith in.  Through the compelling of our conscience, the Holy Spirit tugs at our heartstrings to the point of repentance!

John 16:13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.

John 16:8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment...

While this doesn’t sound like much fun, being rebuked and convicted of our sins, we know that being “pricked in the heart” yields great change!

2 Corinthians 7:10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

Conclusion: "The Ends will Change"

Reflecting on his journeys, Scrooge wisely stated:

“Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead… But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

As believers, we know the “certain end” of a life of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and that only the Narrow Way leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14)

We can continue down that path of destruction, or, like Scrooge, we can repent.  We can turn our hearts over to God through the redirection of the Holy Spirit and Christ will gladly lift us up in sanctification.

Ezekiel 18:21 But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

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