“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past,
courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish
that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal,
and that every path may lead to peace.” —Agnes M. Pharo
One of my favorite stories of the season is that of Ebenezer Scrooge as told in Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol—and not just because Dickens was a Unitarian. I have always admired the story of the overnight conversion of the miserly, severe and friendless old man into the joyful, benevolent and sprightly gentleman animated by the spirit of Christmas. Yet, all of the celebrations of the many traditions in this “Season of Light” —from Hanukkah to Kwanza, Bodhi Day to Yule—could well open a hardened heart to compassion.
A few years ago, Christmas Day was on a Sunday and, even though we don’t usually have a service on Christmas Day (Christmas Eve is our tradition) I really thought it important to open every Sunday no matter how many, or few, came to our Sanctuary doors. I was very grateful that a few dozen people not named Hall showed up that morning if for nothing more than to hear the beautiful music that Carin Torp chose to play on that occasion.
I want to share with you the reflection that I gave that day, because it still rings true, like Christmas Bells even when times are trying, as they often are—as they still are. I hope you find it so, and perhaps it will prompt you to break out your Dickens and share that timeless story with your own family.
“Joy To The World” (Michael F. Hall, adapted)
I have a question for you: Which Scrooge are you this morning? Are you the Scrooge that trudged home from his counting house joylessly last night; self-absorbed, venomous, cynical, feeling superior to others and telling yourself that all you need is to hoard something, (in Scrooge’s case money), that you have no use for and do nothing with? Or are you the joyful Scrooge this Christmas, kicking your heels and positively gleeful to be alive?
Are you the Scrooge transformed by Love in the face of mortality, grateful to have another day in the world in all of its heartrending beauty, just as it is? Are you the Scrooge craving the opportunity to be of use to others, in the place where you live, willing to embrace the world every day with a “Merry Christmas” heart? Are you the Scrooge who has learned from your life, who seeks to wear your heart on your sleeve and breathe new life into broken relationships? Even if it means risking an apology that may not be reciprocated?
I must ask you, on this Christmas day, are you willing to begin anew, to open the fullness of your being to stranger and saint; to live like time is both an ally and adversary? Have you decided to let generosity and joy be what you would lay on the scales— if ever there were need to account for your days—not your money; not your assurance that the world can be broken down into two camps: 7 billion nincompoops and you?
My friends, I don’t know very much, or at least I don’t as much as I would like to think. But I do know that joy need not be just an occasional state of mind. Joy can be cultivated; it can be chosen, it can be a conscious and full-hearted orientation to life. It can be turned into an action plan; to seed the world with Love.
For many of us, it has been hard to muster up joy lately. We have worried over the elections and the state of our democracy, wrung our hands over the state of affairs in far-flung places, fretted about the economy, or the vile things that some people do—and I am not suggesting that those things are not worthy of your concern or mine. But every last one those concerns can be a roadblock to doing the hard and needed work of engagement with the people and institutions in our world.
Where does this come from, this inclination to shut ourselves up, as old Scrooge had done for decades, to close off to the love of friends—-even family? How do people begin to return the kindness of others with coldness, suspicion or disregard? I think it may be fear at the root of this real psycho-spiritual disease.
Underneath, Scrooge was in the deadly grip of a profound, even pathological, fear. Fear of love, of loss and lack, not only of money but ultimately of control. In the end, he feared life, and people and, most of all, looking the fool. As he walked home on Christmas Eve, grumbling about the poor and the foolishness of holidays and charities, he had fully become what his choices dictated: a lonely, loathsome and pathetic man, the butt of jokes for whom only the saintly Bob Cratchit would choose to pray.
Don’t be that Scrooge.
Be the Christmas morning Scrooge, the one with the courage to be joyful in the face of circumstances beyond their control. Be the Scrooge that opens their heart to love despite the risk of loss, be the Scrooge that embraces life rather than fears death. Be that Scrooge, the one who woke one morning with a merry heart and learned to dance to the strains of mercy, redemption and service. Be that Scrooge, the one with the open heart and liberal spirit. Be that Scrooge, because that is the one most needed.
Happy Holidays to you.
Yours in Faith, Hope and Love,