A familiar name in the vast array of Christmas traditions is the Dickens character, Ebenezer Scrooge. According to Wikipedia, “His last name has come into the English language as a byword for miserliness and misanthropy.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more negative epithet for a person than to call that person a “Scrooge.” It’s condemnation becomes all the more powerful in the Christmas season.
A negative moniker almost as shameful is to refer to a person as a “Grinch” suggesting the person is as mean spirited as the character created by Dr. Seuss. Whether one uses the term “Scrooge” or the term “Grinch,” the implication is clear: The person is an outcast abhorred by all thoughtful and compassionate people.
But wait a minute! Aren’t we being unfairly critical of old Ebenezer? (And likewise of the Grinch) Does the man Dickens created deserve to be ostracized forever because of the kind of person he was before his heart was transformed by the three ghosts who ultimately imbued him with the Christmas spirit?
Frankly I think it’s more than ironic that we make this mistake (if that’s the word for it) in midst of the Christmas season. After all, Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus about whom the Apostle Paul says he came to reconcile humans with God. Specifically Paul proclaimed “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old is passed away; see, everything has become new.” (II Cor. 5:17)
The Christ, whose birth we celebrate at this time of year, is the one who can and does transform people — even people like Ebenezer Scrooge. I don’t know if Dickens meant that it was the spirit of Christ that made Scrooge into such a new man. He certainly implied that it was the Christmas spirit that transformed him.
I have no trouble believing that the Christmas spirit worked through the three ghosts that gave Scrooge such a sleepless night. More than that, I celebrate that the transforming spirit did make Ebenezer Scrooge into such a new and happy and generous individual.
I like to say that we Christians are in the “change business.” We want to bring Christ to people so that they can be changed in every way imaginable. Changed in terms of how they view themselves, in how they treat others, in what values direct their lives, in what their lives proclaim about the Jesus who is, as we say, “the reason for the season.”
Perhaps we should use the term “Scrooge” to identify those who have moved from a life that is self-centered (even if try to hide that truth from ourselves) to a life that is a living witness of Christ’s power to make us the “new creation,” that St. Paul identified. Maybe it’s time to release the term “Scrooge” from the lexicon of negativity, and make it into a proud and happy declaration that the babe born some 2000 years ago is alive and well in our hearts today.
Rev. William McCartney is a retired minister and professor at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.
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