One of the most famous characters in all of English literature must surely be Ebenezer Scrooge - the most celebrated miser of all time! In his novel A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens writes of him,
"The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice."
His surname has come into the English language as a byword for miserliness and misanthropy and the story of his redemption by the three Ghosts of Christmas (Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come) has become a defining tale of the Christmas holiday in the English-speaking world.
Perhaps the most famous thing of all about Scrooge is his take on Christmas itself – he despises Christmas and dismisses it all as "humbug", and subjects his clerk, Bob Cratchit, to gruelling hours at low pay, even on Christmas Eve. He rudely refuses his nephew Fred's Christmas dinner invitation, and turns away two charitable workers seeking donations for the poor.
Although we cannot share Scrooge's approach to life, and we are so pleased at his reformed character by the end of the book, I cannot help but find myself thinking of Scrooge's word humbug at so much of what goes on during November and December under the heading of Christmas. There is a mountain of humbug-ness at Christmas under which is almost completely lost, buried and hidden the very heart of its meaning and purpose – the Birth of our Lord Jesus.
It is so natural that Christ's birth elicits in us a great sense of celebration. Such joy MUST be celebrated in as many ways as we possibly can, and as splendidly as we possibly can. But Christmas celebrations tend to have a life of their own and run away with themselves, forgetting the very thing they are meant to be celebrating!
This appears to be not just a modern problem, and perhaps Charles Dickens' concern in his 1843 book was to bring us back (with Scrooge) to the true meaning and purpose of Christmas celebrations – the Birth of Jesus and the love and peace and redemption He came to bring.
In A Christmas Carol it is the three ghosts who convert and redeem Scrooge. That is just a fanciful story, of course. In our case, in real life, it is Jesus who comes to bring us redemption, and we pray that He may be born not just in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, but that He may be born in our modern bewildered and suffering world now, and above all that He may be born in our hearts.
So let us make sure that we celebrate thoroughly the Birth of Jesus – and let us celebrate it like the world does – thoroughly, endlessly, excitedly, extravagantly, and with exuberance – making sure, though, that our celebrations are not empty humbug, but that they have a wonderful point to them. Let us make sure that enthroned on top of all our celebrating, for all to see, is the Birth of Jesus.
Our clergy team wish you all a Christmas empty of humbug, and full of love, joy and peace in Christ!