After attending the National Arts Centre (Ottawa) theatre performance of Charles Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Carol” last week, I wondered: What if Scrooge kept a daily journal? So, in my journal this week, I wrote this imaginative piece entitled, The Unknown Journal of Ebenezer Scrooge:
“It started out as a good idea. Keeping a daily journal was easy for a man who kept meticulous financial records. His ledgers were perfectly lined, his pen craft impeccable.
“Ebenezer Scrooge was on a mission to clean up all of life’s messiness. He wanted to resolve all his problems. He wanted to tie up all the loose ends and complete any unfinished business:
“The brackets on his library shelves downstairs needed reinforcing. The kitchen silverware needed polishing. The large knocker on his apartment door needed sanding and some fresh paint.
The door’s deteriorating condition had recently created spectral images on his imagination in the fading light of day. Like on this Christmas Eve when coming home from work, he saw the face of his long-deceased partner, Mr. Morley, embedded in the decorative door knocker.
“Then, there was the unresolved issue of his assistant Bob Cratchit’s pay in the New Year. Scrooge waffled between giving him a decrease, or keeping it at the same level. The money was tight. And, Scrooge was still beset by disturbing dreams about Tiny Tim – Cratchit’s youngest boy. He wanted to understand what to do with the feelings of despair swirling about these nocturnal predations of the mind.
“All these he would diligently record. These matters, after all, needed his scrupulous and perfectionist ministrations once he would have the time, or by unsuspecting fortune he was granted insight and resource to solve.
“Scrooge lifted his journal onto his lap, feeling the rough leather-bound book. He was surprised by how heavy it felt. Curious about the turn of his thoughts, he flipped to previous days in the month. Then quickly he turned to the first half of his nearly-finished tome, recording events in the last year. Finally, he opened to the first few pages when he started the journal several years ago now.
“Back then, the door knob still needed fixing, the shelf brackets still needed reinforcing. The silverware was never polished enough. And worry about money figured into most of his notations throughout. Nothing changed.
“What is more, a persistent, dark pessimism shrouded his lists of unfinished, unresolved, ‘problems.’ His writing reflected a clear, negative tendency. Something was always missing, incomplete, imperfect. There was never enough. Scarcity, he realized with startling awareness, was a constant undercurrent in his approach to life. And had been, for a long, long time.
“Scrooge pulled on his night shirt and climbed onto his giant canopy bed. As he pulled the covers tight around his chin, he wondered if he should bother keeping a journal at all. The lights dimmed. And he thought he heard the rattle of chains ….”
Charles Dicken’s epic story survives the ages and continues to inspire people at Christmastime because there is something in all of us that can relate to it. The light of Christ coming into the world exposes the darker contours of our souls. In the weeks, and now days, leading to the Christmas celebration, we may feel and struggle with the tensions in our own hearts: Between generosity and self-preservation, between a joyous liberation of spirit and the confining constriction of fear.
Into these tensions, the Lord’s message is clear. The Gospel pushes us into the realm of light – under the spotlight of God’s vision. All is revealed. We have nothing to hide, and nothing for which we have to strive and toil and protect. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
During Advent, we hear again the story of Elizabeth’s meeting with her cousin Mary. Both are pregnant, expecting the birth of babies. Even the babies feel the excitement of their mothers, “leaping with joy” in the womb. The Magnificat, which we read responsively this morning, is Mary’s song of joy in response to the message of the Lord’s promise to her. Joy is a central theme both in the four weeks of preparation leading to Christmas, and also an important characteristic of faith.
It is God’s will for us to enjoy the good things in life. Without denying nor avoiding the hard, challenging and often disappointing events of life, we are called to see the good, and rest in the joy of living. Jesus came, after all, that we might have life “abundantly”. The dominant disposition of faith is joy.
Paul writes in our second lesson some of the earliest script in the New Testament. Written around 50 C.E. the Christians in Thessalonica are merely a generation removed from Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension. They are waiting for the immanent return of Jesus. And this letter is written to a people with a growing anxiety. The proverbial elephant in the room is growing larger with each passing year: Why hasn’t Jesus yet returned in glory?
So, in essence, Paul is addressing a relevant question of faith – even to us some two thousand years later: What do we do in the tension of living between the promise of Jesus’ coming again, and the harsh reality of ‘not yet’?
Paul’s answer revolves around the inner attitudes of thanksgiving and joy. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” he admonishes the faithful. Even when things don’t seem just right. Even when there doesn’t seem to be enough. Even when there are still things to be done, problems to solve, imperfections to address.
The true message of Christmas does a frontal attack on our inherent pessimism. This wake-up call can be disarming. The inaugural Prayer of the Day for Advent calls us to be pure and blameless at the coming of the Lord. Even our liturgies can make us feel worse. For, how can we give thanks in all circumstances when we are hurting so much, are so fearful or angry?
By the end of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge has a conversion of heart. He becomes generous, joyful, free, helping others. How does it happen? A man steeped in his own negativity makes an almost incredible U-turn by the end because of the intervention of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. An intervention of divine proportions breaks into and breaks apart the shroud of pessimism encasing his heart.
Even when we find ourselves stuck in the mire of circumstance, we can begin by appreciating that all of life, especially the good things, are a pure gift of God. Even amidst the direst of circumstances, are there not pinpricks of light, nuggets of grace, whispers of love that pierce our field of vision?
We can, in this appreciation, learn to let go, and release our claim on our lives which are not our own. They are gift. With open hearts, we learn to walk lightly in faith, trusting that God will indeed complete the good work begun in each of our hearts “by the day of Jesus Christ.” All our days are God’s. Our very breath is a gift of life from the Creator.
And what is more, Paul’s earliest message to the Christian church, a message that will endure until the day of Jesus Christ, is one of grace. “The one who calls you is faithful,” Paul tells us, “and God will do this.” On our own strength, and by our own will, we may very well not be able to engineer our own perfection, or the perfection of our lives.
By ourselves, we cannot make the world a better place. By ourselves, we cannot solve all the world’s problems.
But together, God can through us. God did; God does; And God will.
 John 1:9
 Luke 1:41
 John 10:10
 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
 1 Thessalonians 5:18
 First Sunday of Advent, Year B in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p.18
 Philippians 1:6
 1 Thessalonians 5:24