Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 6, 2009

2009.12.06 “The Redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge”

Central United Methodist Church

“Christmas Through the Lens of Hollywood:

“The Redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge”

Pastor David L. Haley

2nd Sunday of Advent

December 6th, 2009

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

(Luke 3: 1 – 6, The New Revised Standard Version)

Today on our way to Christmas we meet two of the most famous grouches in history. Before you say, “O, you’ve met my husband,” let me introduce you to:

John the Baptist and Ebenezer Scrooge.

I introduce you to these two cautionary characters today as the 2nd sermon in my Advent series: “Christmas through the Lens of Hollywood.”  Last week we did “It is a Wonderful Life,” and today, “The Redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge.”

What we see portrayed in the life of Ebenezer Scrooge is an illustration of what John the Baptist was talking about as he preached to prepare the way of the Messiah, and is in fact the same message we need to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah today. And that message is that if we are to be ready for Messiah, we need to change our lives, just as Ebenezer Scrooge changed his life.

In the case of John the Baptist, it had been centuries since there had been a word from the Lord; the last one being the words of the prophet we read today, the prophet Malachi.  By this time, people had begun to despair of ever hearing another word from the Lord.  Then, suddenly, out in the wilderness, across the Jordan River, John appeared, preparing the way of the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

In the language of the church, “repentance” is a change of mind and heart, leading to a change in behavior.  I like the way Eugene Peterson renders it: “a message of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins.”  And that’s what the season of Advent is about as well: not just doing things the same way we have always done them, expecting a different result, but looking at our lives and asking, “What needs to change here?


What is there in or about our life that leads to less than fulfillment?  What attitudes or behaviors are there our lives– perhaps even hidden to us – that are destructive to us or others?

Perhaps it is even our participation in the ways of a society which no longer work, which have become oppressive and unjust: such as greed, apathy, hatred, or war-mongering?  Certainly, the collective path that we are on has brought us to the edge of financial collapse, not only bringing many to desperation, but endangering the life of the entire planet through climate change.  “Something’s got to change.”

Lately, I have been reading the 1996 book by Robert E. Quinn, entitled Deep Change. In that book, Quinn suggests that when, on our lives or organizations, we need deep change, the only alternative is slow death.

But in reality, does anyone know really know anyone who has radically changed?  Turned their life around? 

        Whether you do or whether you don’t, permit me to re-introduce you to one of the best known persons who ever did, although a fictional character: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Outside of the story of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, is there any Christmas story better known than that of Ebenezer Scrooge?  Is there anybody here who hasn’t heard of Ebenezer Scrooge?  How many here, on one occasion or another, have been called a “Scrooge?”

The character of Ebenezer Scrooge is the creation of the English author, Charles Dickens, who was born in 1812 and died in 1870, (at my age), 58.  Dickens spent the first nine years of his life in Kent, a county in southeast England.  His father, John, was a kind and likable man, but he was financially irresponsible, constantly piling up debts. The Dickens family would fit right in today.

When he was nine, his family moved to London. At twelve, his father was arrested and sent to debtors’ prison. (Ah, the Good Old Days, of debtors prisons, workhouses, poorhouses, and child labor?)  Dickens’ mother moved seven of their children into prison with their father but arranged for Charles to live alone outside the prison, working with other child laborers at a hellish job pasting labels on bottles in a warehouse.

After his father was released from prison, Dickens returned to school, eventually becoming a law clerk, then serving as a court reporter before taking his place as one of the most popular English novelists of his time, creating some of the most iconic characters in all of literature. At age 25, Dickens completed his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, which met with great success. This started his career as an English literary celebrity, during which he produced such masterpieces as Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities.


As often the case with the literary life, however, Dickens’ income waned, and by 1846 he needed cash. He had six children to feed, a large house in London to maintain, and a lavish lifestyle. Christmas was approaching. Bitterly, he confided to a friend that his bank account was bare.

And so, in 1843, over six weeks he wrote the 66 pages of the classic Christmas ghost story, “A Christmas Carol.” (If you would like to see the actual written manuscript, see “A Christmas Rewrite, as Dickens Edits Dickens,” by Alison Leigh Cowan, The New York Times, December 1, 2009)

As for his bank account, even though “A Christmas Carol” sold well, selling out the 6,000 copies that had been printed in time for Christmas, he splurged so much on an illustrator that the project was a financial bust.  Fortunately for Dickens, his quickie book went on to become a literary classic. So his Christmases Future were better than his Christmases Past. (The moral is, when you need cash, just sit down and write an enduring literary classic.)

By this short story, Dickens achieved three important things:

(1) In a time when Christmas was in decline, he re-invented the English (and therefore American) Christmas as we know it (or at least as our grandfathers and grandmothers knew it.)

(2) He highlighted some of the great social injustices of his day. It’s a sad commentary that “A Christmas Carol” still plays well.  It’s currently playing at The Goodman Theater here in Chicago, and in yet another animated screen version, by the director Robert Zemekis, starring Jim Carrey, which just opened this Christmas. 

 (3) He created the calloused character of the apathetic penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge, who remains one of Dickens’ most widely recognized and popular creations.

What was the sin that had taken hold in Scrooge’s life? Greed, for himself, and apathy for others, and especially for the poor.


When solicited for offerings for the poor, and told that “Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

Scrooge says:  “Are there no prisons?”

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge.  “Are they still in operation?”

“They are.  Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?”  said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.” . . .  “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

How was Scrooge changed? Through the ghostly interventions of his former partner: Jacob Marley.  When Scrooge reminds the ghost of Jacob Marley that he had always been a good man of business, Marley wails and says:

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

        Is our business any less?

        Of all the versions of A Christmas Carol, none are more memorable, nor closer to the work of Dickens, than the 1951 English version starring Alistar Sim.  Alistair Sim was born to play the part of Scrooge, and his Christmas morning epiphany – particularly his giddiness upon the revelation that his life can be different – is one of the great moments in film.  Take a look . . .

Dickens ends by saying of Scrooge:

“Scrooge was better than his word . . . . 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.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset . . . . His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

        . . . It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Let us pray:  Lord, we confess that there are motives and thoughts in our heart, words that we speak, things we have done, and things we have left undone that did not please you. We repent of these things – forgive us and wash us clean. Help us to leave these things behind, and to live for you and others in all that we do. Prepare us, O Lord, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and, at the last, to stand before him with great joy and celebration.  Amen.


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