Sunday’s sermon: The Hope of Christmas Future

Text used – Isaiah 35:1-10

  • We’re going to do a little exercise this morning, all. I’m going to give you a word, and I want you to show me what that word looks like with your hands.
    • Love
    • Peace
    • Joy
    • Pray
    • Work
    • Last one: keep → Now, I know the tendency with this one is to closed-fist it. After all, the first definition for “keep” in the dictionary is “have or retain possession of.” But the definition for the Hebrew word generally translated as “keep” is different.
      • From Schlimm’s 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know: The idea certainly isn’t that you’re holding onto something the way that, say, some of us “keep” old pens in a junk drawer or magazines atop the toilet. The force of the verb in Hebrew is much stronger. It has to do with protection: staying with something, making sure it remains safe, and seeing that it flourishes.[1]
      • With that nuance in mind, let me ask you again: What does “keep” look like?
  • Christmas is just a week away. We are swiftly coming to the end of our Advent journey, and this morning, we have come to the end of Scrooge’s story as well.
    • Final lines of Dickens’ tale: It was always said of him (Scrooge) 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![2] → We close the pages on Scrooge story with a vastly different character than when we opened them. How did we get from there to here? We could sum it up with one simple word and leave it at that: grace. But let’s dig into it a little more.
      • Particularly in terms of question: What does it mean to “keep” Christmas?
  • Reminder of what we pulled from Rawle’s at the beginning of this series a few weeks ago: Scrooge is an iconic figure who represents stinginess, greed, and generally being in a terrible mood. … Even though by the end of the story Ebenezer Scrooge is a changed person, the character remains a strong caricature of everything our Christmas celebrations shouldn’t be. It seems that we can’t accept that he has been redeemed. But maybe there’s still hope. … After all, if Scrooge can be redeemed, then so can we.[3] → This final portion of Scrooge’s tale that we find ourselves in today is where we see that redemption truly come into focus.
    • See a glimmer of it during his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past, especially when he’s watching his younger self let his fiancé walk away from him
      • See him regret
      • See him express an emotion other than irritation and surliness
      • See him begin to soften in his demeanor
    • See that glimmer grow even stronger during Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present
      • See how he’s affected by the conversation around his nephew’s Christmas table – Scrooge’s reaction to both the majority of the people who are disparaging him and his nephew who continues to defend him and speak kindly for him
      • See how he’s affected by the plight of Bob Cratchit’s youngest son, Tiny Tim
    • But unlike the relatively soft and familiar transition between the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present – a transition that saw Scrooge returned to his own home and his own bed – this time, the Ghost of Christmas Present leaves Scrooge standing alone in a deserted street – story: The bell struck Twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and, lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground towards him.[4] → Remember the original title of A Christmas Carol? “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.” Yeah … this visitation from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – this visitation above all the others – is where the “Ghost Story of Christmas” part comes in.
      • By far the starkest, “ghostiest” visitation → Spirit shows Scrooge firsthand a bleak future indeed
        • Future without him → future in which no one mourns him but instead mock him
          • Gravediggers mock the lack of attendance at his burial
          • Those irreverently pawing through his possessions mock the fact that he had no one
        • Future also lacking another: Tiny Tim → contrast: all those who mourn Tiny Tim
        • Last thing the Spirit reveals to Scrooge = his own headstone → cements Scrooge’s change: “Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear 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?” For the first time the hand appeared to shake. “Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?” The kind hand trembled. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”[5]
  • And it’s the repentance and hope and pleading that I hear in Scrooge’s voice in this passage that reminds me of our Scripture reading from Isaiah this morning.
    • Reading brimming with hope and redemption after difficulty: The desert and the dry land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus. They will burst into bloom, and rejoice with joy and singing. They will receive the glory of Lebanon, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the Lord’s glory, the splendor of our God. … Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. Then the lame will leap like the deer, and the tongues of the speechless will sing. Waters will spring up in the desert, and streams in the wilderness. The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground, fountains of water. … Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away.[6]
      • Reminder: Isaiah is giving voice to these words to those who had been forcibly relocated from their homes in Jerusalem to Babylon (capitol of the Chaldean empire) when the Babylonian army conquered the southern Kingdom of Judah in the late 6th BCE
        • Those who have been conquered
        • Those who have been displaced
        • Those who, though they have been given freedom to move about within the confines of Babylon, were barred from returning home for more than a generation
      • Scholar – powerful interpretation of this passage: In this reading, the opening of the eyes of the blind, the unstopping of the ears of the deaf and the enlivening of the limbs of the disabled are not miraculous healings. Instead, God will confront those who have made themselves blind to injustice with searing visions. Those who made themselves deaf to the cries of God’s poor and marginalized will be unable to shut out their cries. And those who lounged in luxury will run away in fear from their palaces like a frightened deer. All this will cause the mouth that has been shut up for fear of further persecution to sing for joy.[7] → If we think about Isaiah’s words through this lens, we see the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge even more clearly in this passage. Truly, Scrooge was one who stubbornly and categorically refused to see and hear and act on the plight of those in need, and yet even he is redeemed.
    • Rawle ties this ultimate redemption to God’s overwhelming, indelible grace: Salvation is a process, and it begins today! … Grace to you from [God] who is, and who was, and who is to come. A God who is means that we are not abandoned. A God who was means that we are forgiven. A God who is to come means that God can be trusted. … God loves us, has forgiven us, and has given us purpose for the future, beginning today as servants to God and for each other. Through faith in Christ, our present, our past, and our future are held together in grace.[8]
  • And when we think of that idea of “keeping Christmas” throughout the year, that’s ultimately our aim.
    • Not about keeping the Christmas lights on the house all year long
    • Not about keeping our eyes peeled for the perfect gift or the perfect Christmas cookie recipe all year long
    • Not about playing Christmas albums or watching Christmas movies in July
    • That idea of “keeping Christmas” has more to do with that Hebrew definition that I mentioned earlier: “It has to do with protection: staying with something, making sure it remains safe, and seeing that it flourishes.” “Keeping Christmas” is about sheltering and nurturing and holding space for what we believe each and every day: that God came down to take on humanity that night out of God’s own love for us. The Word became flesh and loved among us. God’s own eternal Story took on everything it meant to be human – including pain and fear and anxiety and grief – exactly so that Jesus could meet us wherever we need him most in the midst of our stories to remind us that through God’s grace, we are named and claimed, forgive and freed.
      • Ringing truth of this can be hard enough to keep in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – all the to-do lists and expectations and commitments (those placed on us by others and, even more persistent, those we place on ourselves) → poem by Ann Weems: “This Year Will Be Different[9]
        • “May that truly be said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Matthew Richard Schlimm. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 64.

[2] Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol. (White Plains: Peter Pauper Press, Inc., 2022), 126.

[3] Matt Rawle. The Redemption of Scrooge. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 18.

[4] Dickens, 91.

[5] Dickens, 113-114.

[6] Is 35:1-2, 6-7a, 10b.

[7] Cory Driver. “Commentary on Isaiah 35:1-10” from Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-advent/commentary-on-isaiah-351-10-6#.

[8] Rawle, 126, 128.

[9] Ann Weems. “This Year Will Be Different” from Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 71.

Sunday’s sermon: The Life of Christmas Present

Text used – Luke 1:46-55

  • Nearly 40 years ago, American physician and author Spencer Johnson wrote a little book – a modern-day parable of sorts.
    • May be familiar with Johnson’s name from some of his other books – all fall under the “self-help” category
      • First book: The One-Minute Manager[1]
      • Book from the late 90s: Who Moved My Cheese?[2] (about dealing with change in healthy ways)
        • Sequel: Out of the Maze[3] – published posthumously (about finding your way through life’s “stuck moments”)
    • Now, admittedly, these were not the books I was reading as they came out – certainly not as a baby with his earlier books, and not as a middle schooler or even as an adult with his later books. Johnson’s work came to my attention with that little modern-day parable that he wrote in 1984: The Precious Present[4].
      • When I joined the speech team in 7th grade, my very first piece was The Precious Present. I spent 3-4 months reading this piece aloud at least 4 times a week – once in practices, then again in each of three rounds during the speech tournaments every Saturday from Jan.-Mar.
      • Short story about a little boy and an old man → old man promises to give the little boy the most precious present → “present” = play on words → as he grows into a man, the old man continues to try to teach the boy that the most precious gift is finding the joy and blessing in the present moment
        • Not exactly a smooth journey for the boy, especially not as he grows into an adult preoccupied with material pursuits like wealth, success, and distinction → And though he eventually comes around to the true value of the gift – the precious present – the grown boy is initially very angry when he finds out that this valued gift that he’s built up in his mind and his imagination has nothing whatsoever to do with money or worldly success. It is not the treasure he expected at all.
  • A reality that is far from the expected … from the anticipated … from the imagined. That certainly sounds like both Mary’s story and Scrooge’s story to me.
    • Last week – left Scrooge reeling after his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past → visit that reintroduced him to his former self
      • Self he was before his love of and desire for money consumed him
      • Self who had certainly experienced the stinging cold of rejection but had also experienced the loving warmth of family and friends – his sister, Fanny; his old boss and mentor, Fezziwig; his former fiancé, Bell
      • Encounter that seemed to thaw Scrooge’s heart, if only just a little → also left two promised spirit visits to go
      • What is to come this week – Rawle: The Ghost of Christmas Present is about to take Scrooge on a journey, offering Scrooge a window into the way things are that he could not experience by himself. If anyone can tell it like it is, the Ghost of Christmas Present certainly can.[5]
    • Scripture last week = portion of Esther’s story in which Esther is called to action “for such a time as this” → Esther called to act in a place and manner and time in which only she can act
      • Gateway into this week’s Scripture reading: Mary’s words of praise and thanksgiving most often called “The Magnificat”
  • Though our Scripture reading this morning comes relatively early in the book of Luke – toward the end of only the first chapter – a lot has already happened in this gospel story.
    • Angels have been busy!
      • Announcing the coming of John the Baptist to John’s father, Zechariah → John’s subsequent birth[6]
      • Announcing the birth of Jesus to Mary[7]
    • Mary going to visit her cousin, Elizabeth (mother of John before his birth)[8]
    • Mary’s words of praise in our reading today are in response to Elizabeth’s own words of praise and thanksgiving: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice, she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”[9] → I love this because as far as we can tell from the text, this joy-filled exchange between Elizabeth and Mary happens immediately upon Mary entering Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house. They haven’t observed any of the hospitality rituals expected at the time – no foot washing, no welcoming embrace or kiss of peace. Frankly, we can’t even tell whether Mary’s hasty visit to Zechariah and Elizabeth was expected. Nothing in Scripture indicates that they knew Mary was coming. We’re just told that Mary hurried to their home after her encounter with the angel Gabriel. I imagine Mary being welcomed into the home by Zechariah and calling out for her cousin Elizabeth who was in another part of the home making preparations of some kind – the meal, maybe, or some light housework. I imagine that Elizabeth heard Mary before she saw her, and that was when baby John jumped in her womb.
      • Fascinating exchange because both of these women find themselves in unexpected circumstances
        • Elizabeth and Zechariah are old – well beyond expected child-bearing age, especially at that time → They weren’t as old as Abraham and Sarah when Sarah became pregnant with Isaac, but they were old enough for Zechariah to scoff in the face of an angel when the Gabriel tried to tell him about John’s birth!
        • Opposite end of the spectrum: Mary is young and not yet married → By historical cultural standards, Mary was probably in her early teens – 12-14 yrs. old – and while she is engaged to be married to this presumably older and successful carpenter, they aren’t married yet. Still, she finds herself pregnant with God’s own child! “Mind-blowing” doesn’t really even begin to cover it!
    • And yet, in the face of these wholly unexpected and uncertain circumstances, we find both Elizabeth and Mary deeply inhabiting this present moment and finding utter and absolute joy in it! – Mary’s words: With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name.[10]
      • Gr. makes it clear that Mary’s entire self is invested in this praise[11]
        • Gr. “heart” (“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!”) = word that encompasses the breath, the individual, the soul → It’s the word for what makes each person unique – their identity, will, personality, affections. It’s our individuality. So everything that makes Mary her true and genuine self is giving glory to God.
        • Gr. “depths of who I am” = much more general word for spirit, wind, breath – usually denotes that part of our humanity which is rational → So even setting her surging emotions aside, Mary recognizes this moment as one that is profound and extraordinary – a moment that requires praise.
      • Truly, friends, I think few texts within the whole of the Bible convey joy in the way that today’s passage does. It is joy that encompasses the whole history of the people of Israel, to be sure. Mary speaks of God’s mercy “from one generation to the next” as well as all the ways God cares and provides for those who are in difficult states – those who are without power, without food, without justice. But it is also a joy rooted firmly in the moment.
        • Rooted in the joy of sharing this miraculous thing that has happened to her
        • Rooted in the joy of being chosen by God for this incredible task
        • Rooted in the joy of truly embodying faith in a way that she never has before – that no one ever has before or ever will again!
  • The abundant joy of Mary’s present moment is reflected in the abundance the accompanies the Ghost of Christmas Present when he visits Ebenezer Scrooge.
    • No sooner had he returned from his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Past than Scrooge is awoken once again by the striking of the clock and a visit from yet another spirit – the Ghost of Christmas Present → read from Stave Three:

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove. The leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and great bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch there sat a Giant glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and who raised it high to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door. 

      • This is probably the visit that people tend to be most familiar with because it is this spirit that brings Scrooge to the house of his horrendously overworked and underpaid assistant, Bob Cratchit. It is here that Scrooge observes just how little the family has – using the word “meager” to describe their Christmas dinner would be generous! – and yet how much love and joy they find in one another. And it is here that Scrooge learns about Bob’s youngest son, Tiny Tim, and his health struggles.
        • But visiting the Cratchits is not all the Ghost of Christmas Present does → takes Scrooge around to see all sorts of other Christmas festivities as they’re occurring – all celebrations bathed in the warmth of love and joy despite the circumstances the participants find themselves in
          • Rawle ties this to the Christmas story that we continue to inch ever-closer to: At its heart, the first Nativity is as story born out of poverty, where scarcity is transformed into abundance by a God who will stop at nothing to be with us.[12]
        • Spirit even takes Scrooge to the Christmas celebration he himself had been invited to – that of his nephew, Fred, and his wife → Scrooge observes everyone else around the table making fun of him and talking poorly about him, yet still his nephew defends him: “I have no patience with him,” observed Scrooge’s niece. Scrooge’s niece’s sister, and all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion. “Oh, I have!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself always. Here he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won’t come and dine with us. What’s the consequence? … 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. I mean to give him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not, for I pity him.”[13] → Even in the face of Scrooge’s own cruelty and dismissiveness – in the face of all his abuse and “bah! humbugs!” – Fred continues to give Scrooge a chance to open himself to the joy of the moment. And now, in no uncertain terms, Scrooge knows And that knowledge continues to bring about a slow dawning of change in Scrooge.
          • Rawle: This is what happens when you let Christ in. Christ transforms fear itself into an embodiment of hope.[14] → The first week of Advent, we talked about how we necessarily find hope in the waiting places – those in-between places of uncertainty. Mary’s words of praise and joy this morning remind us that, when we open ourselves up to God in those waiting places – and in all the other uncomfortable places in our hearts and our lives – we can find joy there, too. It may not be the bursting, overabundant joy of Mary’s Magnificat. It may be a subtler joy … a quieter joy … a joy that simple twinkles every now and then like a single candle flame instead of beaming bright light a searchlight. But it is still joy. It is joy because there is where we have found God among us. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Spencer Johnson. The One Minute Manager. (New York: William Morrow and Company), 1982.

[2] Spencer Johnson. Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and In Your Life. (New York: Vermilion), 1998.

[3] Spencer Johnson. Out of the Maze: An A-Mazing Way to Get Unstuck. (New York: Portfolio), 2018.

[4] Spencer Johnson. The Precious Present. (New York: Doubleday Publishing Group), 1984.

[5] Matt Rawle. The Redemption of Scrooge. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 81.

[6] Lk 1:5-25.

[7] Lk 1:26-38.

[8] Lk 1:39-45.

[9] Lk 1:42-45.

[10] Lk 1:46-49.

[11] Exegesis by Rev. Elana Keppel Levy: https://somuchbible.com/word-studies/annotated-scripture/luke-146-55y/.

[12] Rawle, 97.

[13] Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol. (White Plains: Peter Pauper Press, Inc., 2022), 82, 83.

[14] Rawle, 90.

Sunday’s sermon: The Remembrance of Christmas Past

Text used – Esther 4:1-17

  • Last week, we reacquainted ourselves with Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas character Ebenezer Scrooge and talked about the power of hope even when we think that hope cannot be found. This week, we move forward in our Advent journey together and in our journey through Scrooge’s tale together by encountering the Ghost of Christmas Past and considering this idea of the past – and of making peace with the past – through what might be an unexpected Scriptural lens: the story of Esther.
    • Reminder of the basics of Esther’s story
      • King Ahashuerus = King of Persia → ruled a huge swath of land – “from India to Cush – one hundred twenty-seven provinces in all[1],” according to Scripture
        • Basically the entire Middle East (minus the Arabian Peninsula, or modern day Saudi Arabia and all the small surrounding countries there) as well as Turkey, Greece, and much of southeastern Europe including parts of Italy and Austria → This is a HUGE area, folx!
      • At the culmination of a week-long drunken party with all his officials, Ahashuerus calls his beautiful queen, Vashti, to come display her beauty before all the assembled guests (the male guests, of course, because the women had their own party) → implication: she was supposed to come completely unclothed → not surprisingly, Vashti refuses the king’s request and is subsequently banished from the kingdom forevermore
      • King Ahashuerus seeks out a new queen → chooses Esther, unaware of the fact that Esther is a Jew
      • Meanwhile Haman, one of the king’s main advisors, is plotting to get rid of all the Jews – to completely wipe them out! – because they refused to bow down and worship the king and his officials → particularly offended by Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai
      • Mordecai learns of Haman’s plot and turns to his cousin, Esther, the new queen for help = today’s passage → And truly, there is no mistaking the gravity of this situation in Esther. – text: When Mordecai learned what had been done, he tore his clothes, dressed in mourning clothes, and put ashes on his head. Then he went out into the heart of the city and cried out loudly and bitterly.[2]
        • “When Mordecai learned what had been done” … What had been done? – just prior to today’s text: Fast runners were to take the order to all the provinces of the king (all 127 provinces, remember). The order commanded people to wipe out, kill, and destroy all the Jews, both young and old, even women and little children. This was to happen on a single day – the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar). They were also to seize their property. A copy of the order was to become law in each province and to be posted in public for all peoples to read. The people were to be ready for this day to do as the order commanded. Driven by the king’s order the runners left Susa just as the law became public in the fortified part of Susa. While the king and Haman sat down to have a drink, the city of Susa was in total shock.[3] → Certainly explains Mordecai’s reaction, doesn’t it? Even more so when we remember that it was because of his own refusal to bow down to Haman that drew the vain and hateful official’s attention and wrath upon the Jews to begin with.
    • Today’s passage = Mordecai reversing his previous instruction to Esther that she keep her Jewish identity a secret → Now, in the face of this dire and desperate threat, Mordecai is imploring Esther to use the power of her position and the truth of her heritage to save the lives of all the Jews from India to Cush. But Esther is afraid.
      • Afraid of the king’s seemingly fickle anger
      • Afraid for her own personal safety
      • Afraid because of the precedent sent by the king’s actions in the past → banishing Vashti for refusing him … for making him look like a fool → What would he do to a new queen to interrupted his business when she wasn’t called?
  • That place where the past affects the actions of the present = where our Scripture story and Scrooge’s story intersect this morning → While Esther hovers in that place of uncertainty – will she let her feelings from the past inhibit her actions in the present – we turn to the example of one who most definitely let the hurts of the past inhibit his entire being: Ebenezer Scrooge.
    • Ghost of Christmas Past first takes Scrooge to his childhood where Scrooge is reminded of how solitary and lonely his childhood is
    • Next stop = spirit takes Scrooge to his youth
      • Apprenticeship with Fezziwig in a counting house as unlike Scrooge’s own as can be
        • Fezziwig is kind, jovial, and generous
        • Roaring fire warms the entire room
        • Fezziwig dismisses his apprentices early on Christmas Eve with holiday blessings → dismisses them to a lavish Christmas party hosted by Fezziwig himself and his wife
      • Scene in which Scrooge’s fiancé Bell breaks their engagement, pointing out how Scrooge’s greed has consumed everything in him, leaving no room for love or for her
        • [read from Stave Two]: 

          “Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are,” she returned. “I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you.”

          “Have I ever sought release?”

          “In words? No. Never.”

          “In what, then?”

          “In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said the girl, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Ah, no!” …

          “You may — the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will — have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.”

          She left him, and they parted.

    • Final scene = more recent interaction between Bell and her current husband in which she is reminiscing about her former fiancé, Scrooge → her husband’s response: Scrooge is “quite alone in the world”
      • This final scene proves too much for Scrooge. He begs the Ghost of Christmas Past to take him back to his bed, eventually seizing the spirit’s hat himself and shoving it firmly onto the spirit’s head, extinguishing his mystical light and returning Scrooge immediately to his own bed. He is back in the same place … but even after just this first encounter, he is no longer the same person.
    • Rawle’s synopsis: Scrooge comes face to face with the Ghost of Christmas Past, and in doing so, he is reminded of things that have happened to him in the past. These remembrances bring him both joy and pain, but they help remind him of who he was and from where he came.[4] → We are told outright that Scrooge’s greed is one of the main sources of his current, joyless, miserable state. Over and over again, Dickens drives home just how miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is – how he hoards his money and constantly counts his money and places his money at the heart of his whole existence. But through this first visitation, we also get some insight into another element that has frozen Scrooge’s heart: rejection and the loneliness that comes from it.
      • Rejected by his friends
      • Punished by his father for the frivolity of simply being a child → sent away to school and forbidden to return home until many years have passed
      • Ultimately rejected by his fiancé when it became clear that his love and desire money had eclipsed his love and desire for her companionship
      • Time and time again, Scrooge is left alone. And we’ve all been left alone at some point, haven’t we? We know how painful that is. We know how empty loneliness feels. And when that loneliness comes not by our own bidding or our own actions but by the rejection of others, it can be even more painful – painful enough to freeze a heart and turn a soul’s focus entirely to something concrete that can be physically counted and piled high and hoarded … something like money. His past is no excuse for Scrooge’s meanness and spiteful behavior. But it is the beginning of an explanation.
  • In a way, Esther receives her own convicting and persuasive soliloquy similar to the speech that Bell delivers to Scrooge. In her speech, Bell is trying to make Scrooge see the reality of the way things are. We don’t know whether she’s just saying things to make her point or whether she’s actually trying to persuade Scrooge to change – to return to her. But in Esther’s case, things are much clearer.
    • Esther expresses her reluctance to go before the king unbidden because of the past → king’s anger at her unexpected intrusion could mean banishment or even death
    • But in the face of this reluctance, Mordecai does not mince words: Don’t think for one minute that, unlike all the other Jews, you’ll come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.[5] → Mordecai is clearly and boldly calling Esther to action and is also making it just as clear that, if she chooses to let her fear and uncertainty make her decisions and she chooses not to help save her people, salvation will come from some other quarter, but because of her inaction, it will not come for her. In this, Mordecai displays an incredible and unwavering faith in God. The question is will Esther do the same?
      • Ultimately, Esther chooses to act → results in the salvation of all the Jews as well as revealing Haman’s scheming and bringing down punishment for that scheming
  • The fact is inescapable, friends, that we are creatures formed and informed by our pasts. Our pasts cannot be changed, no matter how deeply we wish it. We can go over and over and over past conversations and past actions, thing again and again about what we could have said or what we should have done, but that doesn’t change what has already happened.
    • Rawle: For good or ill, our memories shape who we are, and these memories offer us a default picture of what the world is and our role within it.[6]
    • Question: How will we let that past – those memories – shape us? → Will we let them inspire us? Will we let them give us both wisdom and courage to do better next time? Or will we let them eat away at us, slowly making our hearts bitter, our spirits suspicious, and our minds judgmental? Will we let God open our eyes to the ways in which we are called to do and be in the face of all that is going on around us, or will we let the barbs of the past hold us back and even derail us from the purpose to which we are called?
      • Rawle: We are not called to be perfect so much as we are perfectly suited with a gift through which we respond to God’s grace. Scrooge is beginning to realize how the person he is doesn’t look much like the person he once was. His bitterness has consumed any hint of love or joy he once knew. In a way, he’s been walking down a path not intended for him to tread – he is not living the perfect plan for his life. I am not perfect, and neither are you, but we are perfectly made to follow Christ. → With all our past decisions, our past triumphs, and our past mistakes … still, we are perfectly made to follow Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Est 1:1.

[2] Est 4:1.

[3] Est 3:13-15.

[4] Matt Rawle. The Redemption of Scrooge. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 50.

[5] Est 4:13-14.

[6] Rawle, 54.