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?
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.
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.
This is Scrooge’s Christmas yet to come.
He got what he chose in life.
To be left alone.
By his fellow human beings.
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.
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.
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!