The Christmas Carol
"Carol" is a festive song generally religious but not necessarily connected with church worship. You know the word "carol" from Christmas carols and from Charles Dickens( A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol illustrates the fact something can be religious but not Christian. Although people think it shows the true meaning of Christmas, it doesn't. It's a religious carol about Christmas but it is not The Christmas Carol.
The story begins with Scrooge as a cruel employer, a hardhearted man, and a miser without love or mercy for anyone. His dead business partner, Jacob Marley, appears wrapped in chains warning Scrooge that his sins are making heavy chains for him right now. Then the spirit of Christmas past comes, and we find it really isn't Ebenezer(s fault that he is such a Scrooge. He had a loveless childhood which made him a loveless young man and eventually a miserly old one. Then the spirits of Christmas present and future show us how many people Scrooge harms by his pitiless, ruthless attitude. The story climaxes the next morning when the spirits have left. Scrooge is overjoyed to find he still has time to change fate by becoming a generous, forgiving, merciful person. He reaches out to the Cratchit family and to his estranged nephew. His tight fists open, and he spends money like water.
Many think this is the true meaning of Christmas. The hardened sinner is changed overnight. But look closely at A Christmas Carol. What caused Ebenezer to change from being a Scrooge? He had the dickens (pun intended) scared out of him. The spirit of Christmas future took him to the graveyard and showed him not only Tiny Tim(s grave but his own. To make up for a lifetime of sins, to avoid that awful graveyard Scrooge does a multitude of good works.
Do you think this is the true meaning of Christmas? Then you go ahead and tell your kids that if they(re not good little boys and girls Santa is only going to bring them a piece of coal. Then go ahead and tell them that they had better be nice and not naughty or else. The same goes for you. If A Christmas Carol shows the true meaning of Christmas, then you had better start thinking about what a miserable wretch you are and how you've ruined Christmas for others. Then you had better go to the graveyard and see that for all you do this tombstone is for you!
If Dickens( story is all there is to Christmas, then Scrooge after doing so many good things for the Cratchit family went to hell for eternity. Likewise if you think the true meaning of Christmas is changing from being self-centered to serving others, you too will end up in hell. There is simply no Gospel, no Christ in Scrooge(s Christmas, and without these there is no carol, no festive song in Christmas, period.
The real meaning of Christmas is not found in our works, whether bad or good. The real meaning of Christmas is found in the works of Christ. Using imagery from the Dickens( story, our works can only make longer, heavier chains for us. Jacob Marley is quite a sight standing there wrapped up in chains frightfully moaning, but the reality is worse. Dickens gave Scrooge an (out( for being so sinful. He gave Scrooge a loveless childhood. The long, thick, heavy chains Ebenezer later forged by his heartless ways weren't really his fault. But that's a lie. Regardless of what happened to you as a child, your sins belong to you; your chains are your responsibility. No matter how loveless or merciless you were raised, you will be held guilty for your failure to love or show mercy now.
Furthermore, even if you went from here a changed man or woman, even if you were like Scrooge this Christmas morning showering everyone you had wronged with gifts, forgiveness, and love, those very works would only add to your chains. Why? Because no matter how hard you try, no matter how serious you are about being good and kind, all of your works, even your best ones are dead weights pulling you relentlessly toward hell.
Before God not one of our works is good, clean or holy enough. That 10 dollar bill you threw in the Salvation Army kettle didn't make God smile. That new coat you gave to Good Will, that food you gave to the food bank, or that toy you gave to Blue Santa did not win any points with God. It didn't shorten your chains one bit. In fact, if you think your works do help to shorten your chains or at least they don't add to them, you're in even bigger trouble. Works we think help us before God make the thickest, longest, heaviest chains because such works cut us off completely from God(s grace. Scrooge was never farther from God's grace than on Christmas morning.
The only works that stand before God are God's works. The only works that can please God are works done by God Himself. Therefore, the only human works that can stand before God are those done by the Man who is God, Jesus. Your love, my mercy, our generosity can't stand before God, but that of Jesus can and does. Our works even those done in all the warmth of Christmas are tainted with sin. Try as we may our works are always spoiled. Some piece of pride, greed, or envy drops into our works. But this never happens with Jesus. Jesus' works are totally pure and holy. Although He truly has human flesh and blood from the Virgin Mary, His flesh and blood are divine, holy, without stain or spot.
But a strange thing happened when Jesus was conceived in Mary. Though He was the pure and holy God, He was conceived with thick, heavy chains wrapped around Him. He was born into the world wearing these grotesque chains. As He grew through infancy, childhood, and adolescence, those chains remained. As an adult, He carried them wherever He went, whatever He did. At night He slept on them. During the day, He walked with them their weight burdening His every step. On the cross, those chains hung so thickly on Him that He couldn't even be seen any longer.
Those chains Jesus bore were yours, mine, and ours. The chains you have spent a life time making Jesus carried for you. But He did more than just carry them; He paid for them. He truly did make up for them. When Jesus died on the cross the long, heavy chains of yours were dissolved. They hung round His neck no more. He didn't drag them any longer. And now neither do you. Though you were wrapped in chains thicker than Jacob Marley, you don't have them any longer. You don't have to make up for your sins by changing your behavior. You don't have to pay for your sins by doing the best you can because you have no more sins or chains. Jesus carried every one of them to Calvary and melted them in His holy precious blood.
This wonderful work of Jesus is useless to you without the work of the Holy Spirit. A Christmas Carol has the spirit at work, but there it is spirits plural: the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. And what is the work of the spirits in A Christmas Carol? To rub the face of Scrooge in his sins. These spirits drag him through all the heartbreaks of his life and even show him what future heartaches his sins will cause.
Spirits (plural) will do that same things to you. It's not the Holy Spirit who brings to your mind all the heartrending moments from Christmases past. It's not the Holy Spirit who rubs your face in your sins as if you were a dog who has peed on the rug. It's not the Holy Spirit who tries to scare you into changing your behavior. It's not the Holy Spirit who wants you to find happiness by doing good works. Spirits evil and demonic bring guilt, fear and shame down upon your head. Fallen spirits want you to think you can have peace with God by changing your behavior. The Holy Spirit wants to give you peace by showing you that God has changed His attitude toward you because of the behavior of Jesus. Spirits sent from hell focus you on yourself at Christmas. The Holy Spirit focuses you on Jesus.
The Holy Spirit doesn't take you through your life, past, present, or future. The Holy Spirit takes you through Jesus' life. He shows you how Jesus carried and paid for the chains of sin you've forged. The Holy Spirit takes all the love, grace, and mercy that Jesus paid for and deserves and gives it to you. The Holy Spirit takes the merits of Jesus and applies it to your life.
How does He do this? The spirits in Dickens' book worked by means of visions. They came at night and took Scrooge on walking tours of his past, present and future. The Holy Spirit doesn't work in your life by means of visions, and He doesn't come to you only at night. The Holy Spirit works through physical things that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Holy Spirit comes in the Word of God displaying before your eyes the history of God(s people. He shows you that despite the terrible wickedness of God's people, despite the heavy chains they forged over centuries, never did God stop loving them, never did God stop taking care of them, never did God pull back on His promise to come and redeem them.
But the Holy Spirit does more than show us the history of God's people. He turns us into people of God. In the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit gives us new life. The Holy Spirit, through Baptism, brings all the forgiveness, all the power, all the love that belongs to Jesus and pours it over our lives. The Holy Spirit does for us what the spirits who visited Scrooge never did: assures us of our salvation. While they rubbed Scrooge's face in his sins; the Holy Spirit rubs ours in the waters of Baptism that save us.
The true Spirit of Christmas, the Holy Spirit, brings forth trust, confidence, faith in the Christ of Christmas. The counterfeit spirits bring forth a focus on yourself: what you are, what you do. That's not important in the Christmas story, is it? Who Christ is and what He does is the point of the Christmas carol. In life Dickens got the point that his story missed. He opposed the self-righteous Puritans, and in his will, he commended his soul to God and to the mercy of Jesus Christ. So, although Scrooge would've gone to hell, Dickens did not. His life ended much more festive than his carol. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Advent (20071223)