December 1, 2013 Romans 13: 11-14
One of my favorite stories to hear at this time of year is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s about an old, miserly man named Ebenezer Scrooge. The more I worked with this passage from Romans this week, the more I thought “A Christmas Carol” illustrates it really well.
In the book, Scrooge is introduced to the reader as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence.
He hates Christmas.
That becomes clear as he refuses his nephew’s dinner invitation and rudely turns away two gentlemen who seek a donation to provide a Christmas dinner for the Poor.
His only “Christmas gift” is allowing his overworked, underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off with pay – which he does only to keep with social custom.
Event that gesture, Scrooge degrades by calling it a “poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!”
If you know the story, you know that on one particular Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by his former business partner’s ghost Marley. Marley is one of very few friends Scrooge had in his life, and he kind of sets the stage for what happens in the rest of the story.
Throughout the night Scrooge is visited by three more ghosts…the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas yet to come.
By Christmas morning, Scrooge has had a complete change of heart.
He’s been transformed.
Through a long, dark, somewhat terrifying night, he embraces the fact that his future has yet to be written, and that he does have a say in what will happen.
Overnight, he goes from being a crotchety, greedy, miserly old man, and turns into a generous, kind, benevolent person who embodies the spirit of Christmas.
So, really, when we call someone a “Scrooge”, it should be a compliment, right?
After all, by the end of the story, he’s turned into the kind of person we’d all like to be.
…Well, Christine called me a Scrooge last week, and I didn’t take it as a compliment. 🙂
(don’t you hate it when someone close to you calls you out on something?)
Her comment stung.
And in the days that have passed since her accusation, I’ve done some introspection.
And I’ve come to realize that I need to make some changes in how I approach the days and weeks leading up to Christmas.
I don’t want to be compared to Ebenezer Scrooge, unless it’s the one at the END of the story.
Let me try to explain.
Every year in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I start to dread the holidays.
(can a pastor admit that in public like this?)
It’s not the family or the food or the parties or any of that stuff that I dread; those are the things I really look forward to.
What I dread is the shopping.
I hate shopping. I’ve always hated shopping.
When I was a kid, my mom would consistently threaten my brothers and I when she took us shopping for the new school year. Every time she’d say “Patrick, I’m absolutely NEVER taking you shopping EVER again.”
I think she was trying to get us to shape up.
But I saw that comment as progress. And then my hopes would be dashed the next time I found myself hauled along on yet another shopping trip.
So, shopping for myself is bad enough, but as Thanksgiving gets closer, so does the realization that I’m going to have to spend more time shopping than I have all year.
But it gets worse, because I can find so many good reasons to hate shopping.
You don’t even need to crack the Bible to find good, sound reasons not to spend money, or support large multinational corporations, or give people things they don’t need, or focus on relationships or developing skill sets instead of simply buying everything you need…
Not that I can’t find plenty of good reasons in scripture to support my hatred of shopping…I can do that, too.
As you can tell, this one part of the holiday season that I hate so much, it’s become a way of life with me.
My hatred of shopping has darkened the joy of the season I should be able to otherwise enjoy…but I go along with it, I suck it up and hit the stores because I don’t want to be thought of as a scrooge.
Isn’t that ironic?
I go shopping basically so nobody thinks I’m a scrooge…and then Christine ends up calling me a scrooge.
So not only have I become what I hate, but it’s precisely because I’m trying not to be that way.
In Romans chapter 7, Paul writes “I don’t do what I want to do, instead I do what I hate to do. I do what I don’t want to do, so I agree that the law is good”. It’s in a broader passage about Sin, and the Law.
But the concept is at work here. I agree that the concept of giving gifts is good, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
I hope nobody here would say that it’s a sin to hate shopping.
But I can tell you, it’s easy for me to hold on to that resentment that comes when I find myself browsing the shirts at JC Penneys instead of spending my time more constructively.
It’s easy to feed that resentment with a little righteous indignation as I hear about the latest black friday fights.
It’s easy to turn that resentment into something like a pet that I provide with food and shelter, all the while hoping nobody else knows about it.
That resentment can grow into bitterness, and anger, and greed, and pride, and self-righteousness and a whole host of other things that Christians have no place nurturing.
That’s why Paul says “now is the time to wake up from your slumber.”
What is slumber? It’s the most common way of living in darkness, right?
It’s hard to sleep in a well-lit room (unless you’re full of turkey and mashed potatoes).
Now is the time to wake from your slumber. Put off the deeds of darkness. Put on the armor of light.
Look, for 12 years or longer now, I’ve been trying desperately to hide my hatred of shopping. I’ve been trying to combat the resentment that comes from that by stuffing it down and not allowing it to see the light of day.
And the only person I fooled was myself.
God knows our hearts.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the people closest to us have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in there, too.
But do we care enough to call each other out?
Do we care enough to listen when they do?
Christine was my “Marley” this week. Who’s yours?
I don’t think I’m ever going to like shopping. But I can find ways to manage my emotions. I can give air to the resentment that builds within me.
As it’s been, it grows like mold within my soul.
And the best way to fight mold is to give it plenty of air and sunshine instead of keeping it all in the dark and hoping it never finds a way out.
Can we find ways to let each other air out our souls when we need to?
I like the imagery Paul uses in this passage, because another thing I hate, especially in the winter, is getting out of bed in the morning.
It’s physically uncomfortable and emotionally challenging for me to get out of my warm, comfortable bed where I’ve been living in physical darkness for the night.
So why should I expect a spiritual awakening to be any less uncomfortable, any less challenging?
Friends, the night is almost over. Now is the time to wake up from your slumber.
I urge you with Paul, to put aside the deeds of darkness and turn again towards Jesus.
Clothe yourselves again with the Lord Jesus Christ, not thinking about how to gratify the desires of your sinful nature, but rather how to embrace this new day.
For Christ is our hope.