Living In God's Economy
Living In God’s Economy Galatians 6:7 “Bah! Humbug!” perfectly expresses the worldview of Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Scrooge feels as though every person is deserving of his or her circumstances, whether for good or for bad, so he has little sympathy for those who struggle. Scrooge is a sad, lonely, bitter man, a scrooge, and Christmas, nor any other time of the year for that matter, is a happy time for that tight-fisted, covetous old sinner. Scrooge is an iconic figure who represents stinginess, greed, and generally being in a terrible mood. So iconic is Ebenezer Scrooge, that back in 2013, only 12 children were named Ebenezer, even though the name Ebenezer means “stone of help.” If Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we. One cold, snowy, Christmas Eve night, Scrooge encounters 3 spirits who reveal his past, his present, and his future, in the hope of transforming his crabby, bitter, and greedy heart. But before we embark on a supernatural noel, Dickens wants to make sure we know the facts. Scrooge's longtime business partner, Jacob Marley, is dead. He’s been dead for 7 years. This fact sets the tone of the story and foreshadows what’s to come. Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent means “to come.” These 4 Sunday’s we gather to wait for Christ’s birth and read Scripture such as Isaiah 9:6 which says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” We’ll sing songs such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and light candles of hope, peace, love, and joy. But waiting for something that has already happened is a curious practice. The Advent season plays with our notion of time. The church gathers in the present to ponder the past for a future hope! A Christmas Carol is a beautiful story for Advent because it’s a tale in which the past, present, and future all come together in one night! Just like the night of Christ’s birth. Scrooge cannot let go of his past and he can’t move forward, he can only count on what he’s already been given. But Jesus came to save us from counting our past as our only reality. Just like when Moses led God’s people out of Egyptian slavery into the wilderness. Exodus 16:2-3 says, “ The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron saying, If only we had died in Egypt…for you brought us out into the wilderness to die of hunger.” Because living in the wilderness was difficult, they were caught wondering between where they were and where they were heading. Instead of moving forward, they kept looking back, lamenting over the way things were. They became stubborn and bitter, almost “Scroogelike.” Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Music has a way of being remembered. Likewise, stories help us learn new meaning. Jesus told many stories, called parables, to teach deeper truths. The “Prodigal Son” reminds us of God’s grace, and the “Good Samaritan” urges us to offer compassion. And although A Christmas Carol is longer than a parable, it reminds us that there’s no soul too gruff or too cold for God’s redeeming power! There’s a quote in A Christmas Carol that says, “No warmth could warm, no wintery weather chill him. No wind that blew was more bitter than he.” But Scrooge isn’t totally unfeeling – he certainly cares about money. In fact, Scrooge says that “Christmas is a habit of keeping men from doing business.” Scrooge’s philosophy is grounded in “You reap what you sow,” but it’s one that takes Galatians 6:7 too far out of context. If “Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will reap what they sow” is the sole foundation for our understanding of God; we run the risk of understanding salvation as a reward for ending life “in the black.” But “sin” isn’t measurable. It’s not the case that if you sin 5 times, you simply ask forgiveness 5 times and you’re covered. Instead, the Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:23), and “When you were dead in trespasses, God made you alive together with Him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands” (Col. 2:13-14). Taken out of context, this can make salvation sound like a gift card that simply covers the amount of sinful debt accrued. Salvation is not a savings account; rather salvation is a healing process that transforms who we are and conforms us into the image of Christ. In other words, salvation happens in a hospital, not a bank. It’s easy to see how salvation can be seen as a transaction. Every day we go to work, go shopping, buy groceries. And to say that Jesus “paid the debt” is not a bad analogy, but when taken too far, the Gospel becomes a means of prosperity. When prosperity becomes the only measure of a godly life, the poor and less fortunate are easily forgotten. One of Scrooge’s employee’s said, “It’s at Christmas time that want is most keenly felt.” Then he asked if Scrooge would donate money to help the poor? To which Scrooge replied, “Are there no prisons? I can’t afford to make idle people merry.” But ya know, God’s economy doesn’t follow the same rules as the world. Yes, Jesus paid your sin debt. Yes, you as a Christian have such a loving and forgiving Savior that if you do sin 5 times in a day and ask forgiveness, you will be forgiven. But salvation is more than saying the words, it’s more than lip service. It’s a life transformation to become more like Christ! If we are to reap what we sow, God’s grace would be out of reach. It can’t be earned. It can only be the source of our response. That’s why during Advent, we remember Mary’s vision in Luke 1 of God’s new creation coming into the world through Christ in which the proud are scattered, the hungry are filled, the lowly are lifted, and the hopeless are offered new life. Now early on in A Christmas Carol, Scrooge shoos away a lone caroler whose outside singing, then walks to Jacob Marley’s old home, the home in which Scrooge now lives in. As he approaches the door, Scrooge drops his keys, and as he’s reaching down to grab them, he notices that the door knocker appears as Marley’s face. He’s taken back, startled, flutters his eyes, then gathers his senses. He goes inside and rushes to his bedroom. As Scrooge looks around his room, he begins to hear voices. Then he notices the Dutch tiles ornamenting the fireplace with images of biblical stories. He’s never noticed those powerful images before, and sometimes I wonder how often God is standing right beside us, and we are unaware. Prevenient grace, God’s movement toward us, never stops and never ends; it’s just that we don’t see it as often as we should. Have you ever looked back on your life and said, “God was there the whole time!” It’s like the theme song to the tv show The Goldbergs, which says, “I don’t know the future, but the past keeps getting clearer every day.” After seeing Marley’s face at the front door, Scrooge becomes more aware of his surroundings. You may be asking yourself, “How could Scrooge have missed these images in his bedroom?” But how have we been careless to notice God’s presence that never lets us go and is always near? Remember Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” What events in your life have made you more aware of the present? Next, Scrooge falls asleep but is quickly awoken as Marley’s ghost appears covered in heaven chains. Marley says he’s restless, always traveling with a “continual torture of remorse.” Part of Marley’s punishment is the inability to find peace, and his restlessness is one we all know during the holidays. We’re so busy buying stuff, wrapping presents, and buying food. On the other hand, there can be a loneness as well – memories of loved ones no longer with us or the numbing silence of an empty house. Advent is to be a time of waiting, not only to live into the tension of when the divine and creation collide, but it’s a spiritual discipline of slowing down to notice God’s presence in the still small voice within a violent and hurried world. Scrooge cannot fathom the fact that Marley walks in restlessness, saying, “But Jacob, you were always a good man of business,” to which Marley answers, “Business!... Mankind was my business!” You see, Marley could see the poor, but offer no help except to reveal it to Scrooge, because up until this point, Scrooge’s love was purely money. But now Marley tells Scrooge, “You have a chance of hope to escape my fate.” “But why do you wear those heavy chains?” asks Scrooge. Marley answered, “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, yard by yard, by my own free will.” Remember how I said the Israelites in the wilderness were “Scroogelike,” and how they grumbled about dying of starvation? Well, God gave them Manna, meaning, “What is this?” God had blessed them with “whatever” it was to get them through the day. Moses told them to gather only the manna they needed, nothing more. In their free will, some gathered plenty, others gathered little; but for those who gathered more than what they needed, their abundance spoiled. Scrooge’s abundance was spoiling, and Marley warned him that Scrooge's misplaced love would become nothing more than heavy chains. Scrooge had to let go of his Egypt, that old familiar comfortable place, so that his hands could be open to the manna that only God could provide! We, like Scrooge, had to learn that whether we have too much or whether we’re in want, we can’t serve both God and money. “You can’t serve both Manna and Mammon!” “Bah! Humbug!...Merry Christmas!” Says, Scrooge, “What right have you to be merry? What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?” Hear me when I say, yes, we need money. But the truth of valuing profit over people is far from God’s heart. The truth that the Master invited the poor, the blind, and the lame to the table because the elite were too busy. The truth that Christ’s resurrection changed the rules of the world and we’re no longer slaves to the mammon of human hands. The truth is to live in a world where money is not in charge, a truth Scrooge had to learn. I ask that you please join us again next week as we follow Scrooge as he explores Christmas Past, while we focus upon “Jesus, The Redeemer Of Our Past.” Because if Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we! AMEN Now is the time in which we partake of the LORDS supper. At His table we find meaning and joy in whatever life looks like because we trust Jesus for our lives. As the bread and cup nourish our body, so may God’s indwelling Holy Spirit strengthen our soul, until the day of Christ’s appearing when we will hunger and thirst no more, and sit with Him at His heavenly table. LORD, only you can see right into our hearts and know that under all the busyness of life, we long to make this Advent one that welcomes you more deeply into our lives. We desire the warmth of your love and the ability to forgive those who have hurt us. Lose any chains LORD, turn us into peacemakers, and give us the strength and the courage to proclaim the birth of Your Only Son, our only Savior, Jesus Christ. To proclaim Christ as the Reason for the Season in this uneasy world, for without Christ, there would be no Christmas. Let us stand as light in the darkness as we prepare for your coming with joyful eagerness. You are Immanuel. You’re not hidden from us, but with us. And no matter how busy life gets, just as a song stays in our mind, as a candle gives light, or as a Christmas card we get from a friend, these are signs of your presence reminding us that we’re not forgotten. And in Your love to redeem us, you came to us in Christ Jesus. And it’s Christ who taught us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.