The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: Thoughts on what we leave behind.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

When I was a boy, my parents thought it was important that my brother Tom and I learn to swim.

So, every week, my mother drove us to the “Duquesne Library” for swimming lessons.

Swimming lessons in a library?

 You bet.

Down in the basement there was a pool.

There was also a gym of sorts with and a locker room with showers.

I later learned that the “Duquesne Library” was actually the “Carnegie Library of Duquesne”.

One of 3,000 such libraries built by Andrew Carnegie throughout the United States, Fiji and New Zealand.

These libraries offered education and recreation to the communities in which they were built.

Hence the pool in the basement.

And Carnegie did a lot more.

He endowed The Carnegie Institute of Technology; The Carnegie Research Institute; the Carnegie Educational Foundation and the Endowment for International Peace, among many, many other charitable acts.

He even bought 8,000 church organs so that the music would lessen “the pain of the sermons.”

Where did Carnegie get the money to do all this?

Most of it he got when he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for the unheard-of amount of $480,000,000!

Billions by today’s standard.

That business deal made Carnegie the richest man in the world.

And then, in the last 18 years of life, he would give 90% of it away.

Why?

Maybe to back up a statement he made in 1889 that any man who died rich died disgraced.

That is what Carnegie said, but not how he lived.

Carnegie was known by his peers, J. P. Morgan for instance, as a fast talking “man on the make”.

And while Carnegie claimed to care about his steel industry workforce, he kept their wages low in order to increase the profits he needed to maintain his virtual monopoly in steel making.

Such an approach to labor led to the violent Homestead strike of 1892 that cost the lives of 10 men.

It has been said that Carnegie spent the rest of his life trying to deny his role in that terrible event.

Maybe that’s why, in his later years, Carnegie tried to give most of his money to charitable ventures.

All we really know is that Carnegie, a lifelong agnostic, had a change of heart, a change of mind, that led him to such unheard-of generosity.

Maybe he was visited by four Ghosts?

Or maybe God did something that Jesus said only God can do.

Change the heart and mind of one unable or unwilling to do so.

Let’s take a look.

Mark 10: 23-27

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

1 John 3: 16-24

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

This week we meet the fourth and last Ghost

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

This Ghost is far different from the rest.

Marley was sort of a herald announcing the next three Ghosts and the reason for their visits.

The Ghost of Christmas Past was a melancholy spirit who reminded Scrooge of what made him the greedy curmudgeon he had become.

The Ghost of Christmas Present was a jolly fellow who taught Scrooge that caring for our fellow human beings had little cost and yet great reward.

With the disappearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge was immediately in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

This Ghost Scrooge feared most.

This Ghost is a dark shadow that has only two physical characteristics.

It has a deep hood that is so dark, its face cannot be seen.

It also has one outstretched hand.

“But for this, [according to Dickens] it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.”

The Ghost does not speak, but simply points.

That is its only form of communication.

Scrooge looks where it points and sees what the Ghost wants him to see.

First, there are four businessmen Scrooge knows.

They are talking about the death of someone so unpopular that none expects anyone to attend the cheap funeral unless a lunch is served.

They wonder what the dead man has done with his money.

They know of no one he might have left it to.

The next scene is one of two men who remark that this same dead man has finally been taken by “Old Scratch”, a term used for the devil in those days.

These are men Scrooge is acquainted with because he, like them, is a man of business.

He wanted their approval and sought it.

But while Scrooge does not yet know it, they are talking about him, and there are no words of approval.

There are almost no words at all.

Next the Ghost takes Scrooge to what is best described as a buyer of stolen goods – a fence.

Three people come in and it is clear they have all robbed the same place – the residence of someone who just died.

Two offer just a few trinkets, but the third presents the dead man’s bed curtains, blankets and even the shirt he had been dressed in for the funeral.

These things were easily taken because the dead man had nobody “to look after him when he was struck by Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.”

Scrooge is then taken to the dead man himself, lying on a stripped bed under a flimsy sheet, alone.

Whatever he had in life, it was gone.

Scrooge is horrified and while being motioned to pull the sheet from the dead man’s face, but he cannot and wants to see someone who feels emotion for the dead man.

Scrooge is transported to the home of a family that owed the dead man money.

Payment of the debt is overdue.

Foreclosure would put the family out on the street, in workhouses, poorhouses, debtors’ prison.

But not now!

The man is dead.

The payment of the debt is postponed.

The family has hope – and happiness.

Because the man is dead.

Scrooge is beside himself and wants to see genuine mourning.

The Ghost takes him to see the Cratchits, who are grieving the death of Tiny Tim, who still lies in his bed upstairs.

Bob goes to the bed and weeps, then kisses the dead child before returning to the family, resolved to Tim’s death but happy for what Tim’s short life offered.

The Cratchits were touched by Tim’s grace and concern for his fellow human beings.

They would never forget him, and would visit his grave often.

This was not what the dead man had left behind.

No one mourned him.

Scrooge demands to know who the dead man was, and he is taken to a church graveyard where there is a forgotten and neglected grave.

Before Scrooge looks at the headstone, he cries out to the Ghost and proclaims his repentance from the life he had led.

He seeks assurance that the reason the Ghosts came was to give him time to change his ways and avoid the fate of this dead man he saw on the bed.

The Ghost remains silent and only points at the grave.

Finally, Scrooge looks at the headstone and the name on it.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

This is Scrooge’s Christmas yet to come.

He got what he chose in life.

To be left alone.

By his fellow human beings.

By Christmas,

And while Dickens does not put these thoughts in Scrooge’s head, I do now.

Maybe Scrooge was also wondering where his chain wrapped spirit was wandering, regretting the life he led, with nothing to be done about it – ever.

When I re-read Dickens’ story this year, for the first time I thought of Scrooge’s pleading with the Ghost as a prayer.

A prayer of confession and a promise to change.

Spirit! [H]ear 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? … Assure me that I may yet change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! … I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. … Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!

What is really interesting is that Scrooge’s prayer had already been answered by the grace of the Christmas Ghosts who came to teach him the hard and painful lesson.

And then, Scrooge is awake.

He is not dead.

It is still Christmas Day.

And his new life begins.

He pays a boy well to buy and take a prize turkey to the Cratchits.

He donates an astonishing amount of money to the poor.

He spends Christmas with his nephew.

He gives Bob a raise and cares for Tiny Tim, who does not die.

Scrooge is a new man.

One who from then on kept Christmas better than anyone else.

He found Christmas.

He found love.

What does any of this have to do with our scriptures?

We have three characters to look at.

Scrooge.

Carnegie.

The rich young man.

All three rejected “Christmas” in favor of profit.

John describes them all this way.

17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

But then Scrooge and Carnegie changed.

How do we know?

Let’s look at John again.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 

They changed their ways.

They shared their wealth with those in need.

In this way they showed love – with truth and action.

How could such a thing happen?

The disciples are told that rich folk can’t get into the kingdom.

The disciples are stunned and want to know how anyone can get to the kingdom.

Jesus’ reply?

Not on their own.

Only with God’s grace.

Was its God’s grace who changed the fictional Scrooge?

Dickens implies it.

Was its God’s grace who changed the real Carnegie?

His later life implies it.

And what about that rich young man?

We are not told what happens to him.

I like to think he, too, changes, gives up his idol of wealth and follows Jesus.

Because God’s grace is abundant.

And it can change the way people live and love, even those who can’t, or won’t, on their own.

That is why Jesus came to live with us.

To show us how to do that.

And because of the birth of that child, in Bethlehem, in a stable, so many years ago – to paraphrase Tiny Tim – God blesses us, every one!

The Ghost of Christmas Present: Thoughts on knowing Christmas.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

What is your favorite Christmas TV Special?

Many of you might say it’s, Dr. Suess’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

This story first appeared in book form in 1957 and was animated for TV in 1966.

It has since become a live action movie, a computer animated film and currently a live TV musical.

You know the story.

The Grinch is a grumpy, mean spirited creature who hates Christmas.

Why does the Scrooge hate Christmas?

Because once a year, the Whos of Whoville celebrate the day with loud festivities that disturb the Grinches peace, quiet, and his desire to be left alone.

The Grinch tries to put an end to this current Christmas by stealing all the Christmas presents, decorations and food from the homes of the nearby town Whoville on Christmas Eve.

His belief is that if there are no gifts, no decorations, no feasts, there will be no noisy celebration.

While the Grinch does steal all the Christmas “stuff”,  the Whos of Whoville still leave their houses to joyfully sing their Christmas songs while greeting each other with cheerful words.

The Grinch realizes that Christmas is not about glitz, food and presents, but about “something more”.

While Christ is not specifically referenced, the “something more” is clearly the celebration Jesus’ birth.

It is an interesting idea that the Grinch tries to “steal” Christmas.

To the Grinch, Christmas is just a thing that can be taken away.

Is that what Christmas has become?

A thing?

Like a car that when you strip it of its usable parts, is sent to the junk yard?

Would we still celebrate if Christmas didn’t have all the bells and whistles? 

That’s what the Grinch thinks.

That’s what Scrooge thinks.

He, too, is annoyed by Christmas.

He want6s it to go away so that he can be left alone.

What would the Ghost of Christmas Present say about this?

First let’s take a look at our scripture.

Mark 10: 17-27

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

1 John 4: 7-12

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

So, now we have met two of the four ghosts of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.

Each has a message for Scrooge.

The horrifying Marley tells Scrooge that hell is an eternal inability to love others when there is a desire, a compulsion even, to do so.

Marley tells Scrooge that that is where Scrooge is headed if he does not change his ways.

Next, we meet the amorphous Ghost of Christmas Past.

This Ghost recounts how Scrooge came to value profit over love.

The rich young man and Scrooge are the same.

Both have grown to love wealth over love and so have gone away sad.

Now we meet the Ghost of Christmas Present.

This visitation is very different.

Rather than horrifying and melancholy, this Ghost is a jolly fellow indeed!

Scrooge finds the Ghost in one of Scrooge’s own rooms that has been transformed.

It is filled with food and drink.

There is a huge fire in the fireplace.

The room is warm and festive.

This Ghost is vivid and vibrant.

He’s a giant carrying a horn of plenty lit like a torch.

He is loud and jovial.

He is Christmas.

Or at least what Christmas is supposed to be.

And he bids Scrooge to “Come and know me better!”

Come and know Christmas better.

Shouldn’t be hard, right?

Scrooge does not “keep” Christmas.

He says it is a “humbug”.

What does Scrooge think of Christmas?

“Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas-time … but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer, a time for balancing your books; and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen months presented dead against you? 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!”

To Scrooge, Christmas costs money.

And Christmas just isn’t worth it.

Particularly to the regular folks of London.

Spending that money makes them poor.

And we know what Scrooge thinks of the poor.

They should go to workhouses and prisons.

And if they would rather die than go there, they should get on with it and decrease the surplus population!

While the rich young man is not quite so vicious, he does walk away from Christmas because, like Scrooge, it’s not worth the cost.

What do Scrooge and the rich young man have in common?

They think that if you don’t know Christmas, it costs you nothing.

It’s the materialization of Christmas.

Which brings us to the Ghost of Christmas Present.

To this Ghost, Christmas is not a thing, but a celebration that teaches us about love.

Knowing Christmas is how you get to know love.

That is this Ghost’s mission.

To get Scrooge to know Christmas.

Off they go.

The first part of the trip is a tour of the town.

It is dark, dingy, dreary and gloomy.;

The air is polluted with soot.

The ground is covered with dirty snow.

Yet, there is a festive and happy air about town.

The poulterers, fruiterers, and grocers are well stocked for the people shopping for their Christmas Day feasts.

Feasts they can’t cook themselves because they have no ovens in their poor dwellings and so must ask the bakers for the use of theirs.

These are the regular Londoners Scrooge castigates for spending money on a thing of no value.

As the people bustle about, the Ghost blesses them with incense from his torch and drops water on the heads of those who are arguing to restore their good humor.

These people are having moments of good tidings and joy just because it is Christmas Day.

They know Christmas well.

Ultimately, Scrooge and the Ghost arrive at the four-room home of Bob Cratchit.

You know, Scrooge’s clerk who makes only 15 “bob” a week, barely a subsistence wage for a family of 8.

Dickens describes them this way:

There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family, they were not well dressed, their shoes were far from being waterproof, their clothes were scanty, and [son]Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time …

Yet they are joyful on Christmas Day.

Their old clothes are spruced up with cheap ribbons and their dinner is a low-cost, small goose.

Dessert is an equally small pudding.

They sing and talk and laugh.

Tiny Tim, disabled and dying, one whom Scrooge might have thought to be part of that surplus population who need to get on with their dying, has remarked earlier that he had hoped the people in church that day had seen his disabled body so that they might be reminded of the one who came to heal such people.

The Cratchit’s know Christmas well.

Scrooge and the Ghost next spent time moving around the area.

First to a bleak moor covered in stones and rank grass where they come to the home of a coal miner.

This home, in which lived several generations, was isolated, and was at least as poor as Bob’s.

Yet they were joyful, dressed in their best clothes and loudly singing a Christmas song.

Then off to a solitary lighthouse where the two keepers shared grog and wished each other Merry Christmas and sang a sturdy song.

Then to a ship at sea, where the crew hummed Christmas songs, had kinder words for each other, shared in the festivities, thought of past Christmases, remembered those cared for at a distance and looked forward to going home.

The Ghost and Scrooge continued the tour.

“Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end.”
Even when that visit included the sick, the struggling, the poor and the imprisoned.

Poor, isolated, solitary people, separated and distant, were a bit happier on Christmas Day simply because it was Christmas Day.

And Christmas cost them nothing at all.

They all knew Christmas well.

In the midst of this journey, Scrooge and the Ghost went to Fred’s house and Scrooge saw what he had given up when he had rejected Fred’s invitation to Christmas dinner.

Food, music, games, joy.

And remember, Fred is poor, by Scrooge’s standards.

How did Scrooge put it?

“What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry, You’re poor enough.”

The lesson of this particular visit was voiced by Fred.

… [T]he consequence of [Scrooge’s] taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts, either in his moldy old office or his dusty chambers.

Christmas has no cost.

But not keeping it, not knowing it, does have a cost.

The loss of love.

The love of those nearby and not nearby.

Now Scrooge is getting the message.

Dickens describes the change.

… [A]ll the things the Ghost had shown him came upon his mind; he softened more and more and thought that if he could have listened to [Christmas] often, years ago, he might have cultivated the kindness of life for his own happiness with his own hands, without resorting to the sexton’s spade that buried Jacob Marley.

The journey is over, and the Ghost’s time is nearly at an end.

And then this strange vignette.

Two children are discovered by Scrooge under the Ghost’s robe.

They are wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable, yellow, meager, scowling and wolfish.

These children cling to Christmas prostrate.

Who are they?

They are children of humanity.

Our children.

Ignorance and want.

The uneducated and the poor.

Neither can care for themselves.

The ones who have no resources.

The ones who need hope.

And so, they cling to Christmas, prostrate, as their only hope.

Christmas love shared by others.

To know Christmas is to know them, too.

Know them and take steps to uplift them.

Scrooge seems to understand and asks about what can be done for them?

Scrooge’s own words are repeated.

“Are there no prisons?”

“Are there no workhouses?”

And the Ghost is gone.

What does any of this have to do with our scripture readings?

If we accept that “Christmas” in “A Christmas Carol” is meant to mean Jesus, and why wouldn’t it, then Scrooge remains the rich young man.

Not really knowing Jesus well, if at all.

Unaware that knowing Jesus means loving others.

Concerned about the cost of knowing Jesus.

Jesus invites Scrooge and the rich young man to know him better.

That is the lesson of the Ghost of Christmas Present.

All these Christmas celebrations were basically an exchange of love and kindness.

And at no cost.

To not know that is to not know Christmas.

That is what John says.

Whoever does not love does not know Christmas.

Love was revealed to us in this way: God gave his only Son to the world on Christmas Day so that we might learn to love. 

While one has ever seen “Christmas”, if we love one another, we will know Christmas better!

We will know Jesus better.

And it cost’s us nothing.

Scrooge is learning.

But he needs one more Ghost.

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Thoughts on being in the light.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

One of my favorite songs of faith is “I want to be in the Light” by Charlie Peacock and wonderfully performed by DC Talk.

I listened to it this week, and I think maybe it should be a theme song to Charles Dicken’s, “A Christmas Carol”.

The song starts as a prayer of confession.

Oh, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
I’m still a man in need of a Savior

Then comes the prayer for forgiveness.

I wanna be in the light as you are in the light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my light and be my salvation
All I want is to be in the light
All I want is to be in the light

Jesus is the light, and we ask for that light to shine on us.

And when it does, we are saved from the darkness within us.

But here is the problem, when we step into Jesus’ light, we see the things in our lives that we don’t want to see.

Things we regret.

Things we feel guilty about.

Things we are ashamed of.

And so, sometimes … sometimes … we try to extinguish that light.

To leave these things in the dark.

In the dark, we can ignore them.

Or, in our own minds, justify them.

We see that described by Dickens in Stave 2 of “A Christmas Carol” when we meet the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Which brings us to our two scripture readings.

Mark 10: 17-27

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

1 John 1: 1-10

1We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

These two passages describe Scrooge’s journey with the Ghosts, I think.

The rich young man is Scrooge.

Jesus describes his interior turmoil.

And his misunderstanding of what is important in life.

The John text describes what happens when we choose light.

We will explore the story of the rich young man and John’s first letter over the course of the next three weeks in the context of the remaining three of Dicken’s Ghosts.

This week we meet the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Scrooge’s past.

But before we go there, we need to meet the Ghost.

The description of the Ghost is one of confusion and vagueness.

The more you focus on the physical characteristics of the Ghost, the harder they are to describe as they continually transform.

But there is one physical aspect of the Ghost that is constant.

… [T]he strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright, clear jet of light, by which all … was visible; and which doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

This jet of light was what disclosed Scrooge’s past and was being given to Scrooge by the Ghost for his benefit.

Yet, Dickens describes Scrooge’s reaction to the light this way:

Perhaps Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him, but he had a special desire to see the spirit in his cap, and begged him to be covered.

In other words, Scrooge wanted to extinguish the light by putting the hat on the Ghost’s head.

The Ghost is aghast!

The Ghost points out that the cap was actually made by people with “passions” like those of Scrooge, who also wanted no part of the light.

And it’s clear that Scrooge has the power to put the cap on the Ghost’s head to extinguish the light right then.

More importantly Scrooge has done so in the past.

But Scrooge relents.

And so, the Ghost and Scrooge journey that past to see how Scrooge came to be … well … Scrooge!

A man who cannot love and who thinks Christmas is a humbug!

The first memory is Scrooge as a small boy at a cold, dark, dingy and destitute boarding school.

Why is he there?

Probably because his father has turned him over the this “government run” school because caring for Scrooge costs too much.

So, Scrooge has been abandoned there until he is old enough to get a job.

Scrooge doesn’t even go home for Christmas.

Everyone else has gone home to be with family.

Scrooge is alone.

He is left only with his books, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves from One Thousand and One Nights, Valentine and Orson, Aladdin, and Robinson Crusoe. 

The characters in the books his only friends and hos only joy.

Scrooge learns that he does not need people and certainly has no use for Christmas!

But Scrooge’s circumstance reminds him of the boy who sang him a Christmas carol that afternoon asking only for some form of gratitude or appreciation, only to be chased away by Scrooge with a ruler.

Scrooge had been that small boy once.

Why did he not remember that earlier?

Because there was no profit in it.

The next memory is of a later Christmas, when Scrooge’s his sister Fan comes to take him home.

Why now?

It costs his father nothing to have him home.

Because Scrooge is a “man” and can earn his own keep.

Scrooge is on his own.

The only way for Scrooge to avoid prison and a union house is to earn money.

Earning money is not the most important thing.

It is the only thing.

But Scrooge then thinks about Fred, Fan’s son, who has little money, but seems to keep Christmas rather well.

All Fred wanted was to offer the same love to Scrooge Fan had.

Why did Scrooge reject the son of his beloved sister?

Because there was no profit in it.

Next, we are off to Old Fezziwig’s where Scrooge was apprenticed.

There is a big Fezziwig family Christmas party and all workers and a few neighbors are invited to attend.

The Ghost points out that a great deal of joy, though brief, cost Fezziwig just three of four pounds.

Scrooge then thinks of clerk Bob Cratchit and realizes he has the power to make Bob’s work lighter and maybe enjoyable.

Why does Scrooge not do that?

Because there is no profit in it.

Lastly, we get to Belle, Scrooges fiancé.

Their marriage has been put off for a long time so that Scrooge can make enough money to support them in the way he wants.

But that is a goal that has never been and, according to Belle, will never be reached.

Scrooge doesn’t even make an effort to save their relationship.

Why not?

Because there is not profit in it.

Scrooge can take little more – torture – he calls it but is taken to Belle’s home a few years later.

She is surrounded by a loving family at Christmas.

Scrooge is at work while Marley, his only friend, is dying.

Why not sit with the dying Marley?

Because there is no profit in it.

Scrooge is completely alone.

Counting his profits.

This trip down memory lane spotlighted by the Ghost is too much for Scrooge and he decides he wants no more of this light.

He takes the cap from the Ghost and pushes it over the Ghost’s head until the Ghost entirely disappears.

Scrooge is back in the dark.

And dark is cheap.

And Scrooge likes it.

What does any of this have to do with our scripture readings?

In the passage, the rich young man approaches Jesus and wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus basically tells him must follow the commandments of God.

The man says something like, “That’s it? I already do that!”

The Jesus shines a bit of light on a character flaw in this rich young man.

Kind of like the Ghost.

“Really? Let’s take a look. Why aren’t you using your money to care for the needy? Do that, then come back and see me.”

The rich young man is Scrooge.

Like Scrooge, the idea that he would use his money for the benefit of others, is not something he is willing to do.

What is the profit in that?

Like Scrooge, he leaves Jesus behind and walks away.

And, like Scrooge, he extinguishes the light that was offered to him.

The rich young man wanted to be in the light of Jesus but could not give up the darkness of his profits.

Neither Scrooge nor the rich young man can love Jesus (Christmas) because they can’t love other people.

But they were not born this way, right?

The were not always bad people.

They both were impacted by events, good and bad, in their lives that for some reason made them believe that comfort and security were provided only by wealth.

And don’t we all think that from time to time?

Before we share our wealth, we want to know how it will profit us.

When we see none, we choose wealth over love of neighbor.

We choose wealth over Jesus.

We choose darkness, like Scrooge.

Like the rich young man.

This happens not because we are bad people, but because following Jesus is often hard.

Jesus asks a lot.

And sometimes we stumble.

That is where John comes in and gives us hope.

Jesus calls us to admit that we can’t always do as we Jesus demands.

We don’t always embrace the light.

We don’t always love God.

We don’t always love neighbor.

If we deny it, like Scrooge, like the rich young man, the light is not in us and we remain in darkness.

Yet here is the Good News of “A Christmas Carol” and of the story of the rich young man.

There is always another chance.

God continues to seek us out to bring us into the light.

There is an opportunity to repent, confess and go into the light.

Then we try to do better.

And when we do the best we can, Jesus forgives us.

But for Scrooge, it took two more Ghosts.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: The Ghost of Christmas Past!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is a Christmas song written by Andy Williams and Kathy Troccoli. It is a holiday favorite. Here are some of the lyrics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle bell’ing
And everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer!”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap-happiest season of all

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
Caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistletoe’ing
And hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It took me a long time to understand why it included a reference to “scary ghost stories. OK, I’m a bit slow on the uptake at times, but i think now that this Must be a reference to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Which makes sense when we think about this week’s part two of the Advent Sermon Series based on the four ghost stores in that great book. Another interesting tie into the book is the joyful nature of the rest of the song. There is a good deal of joy described in this book as well. This week we explore the Ghost of Christmas Past. What does this ghost and our scripture have to say thuis week? Join us Sunday at 10am for Pastor Jeff’s sermon on the Ghost of Christmas Past in the parking lot or on Facebook live or later on YouTube.