Faith Works 12-18-10
Scrooge Was Right
Scrooge was right, you know.
When he said "Bah, humbug," he had a point.
Humbug was a stock phrase of the day, 1843 that is, one that got attached in this country to P.T. Barnum.
A humbug was a hoax, a fraud, a scam perpetrated on a gullible public to get their money and leave them only semi-satisfied, whether in having seen a freak show or simply following the sign "This Way to the Egress."
Humbug was a commercial scam pulled off with the almost willing cooperation of the sucker, tugging at their heartstrings and gnawing at a vague sense of nostalgia for something they'd never actually known.
When Scrooge said "Humbug," he meant that the Christmas season, as far as it impinged on the storefront offices of "Scrooge and Marley" was just another ripoff. Sure, the churches may have their well intended aims to celebrate the birth of their leading figure, but if you weren't interested in those liturgical ends, the means of Christmas were just another mean and low plot to pick the pocket of those who had a few coins to spare.
Scrooge even hated to see his overworked and underpaid clerk, that Cratchit fellow, get pulled into the cultural demands to spend money. It was wrong, and Scrooge felt the need to call "Humbug" on it.
Oh, there were some charitable initiatives tied up with it all, but they could be done more effectively and efficiently in a more consistent, and ordered sort of way.
And Scrooge was right when he had a chance, in his mind's eye if not through some late night drowsy indigestion – "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato" – to reflect on his childhood.
The past was over and done, and those who have passed on into that "undiscovered country" are to be cherished, but not dwelt upon. What good does it do to wallow in the memories of bygone days, those mostly sad and painful?
To imagine the lot of those who walk this unquiet earth alongside of us: now there's an unproductive mental activity. Even if you could fly through the air, or peep unseen through windows, even stand invisibly inside someone else's family room, can any of us know what the actual inner life of another is, as it is felt?
Then there's those darkest hours just before the dawn, when even your own death is a well-lit possibility in your imagination. What will people think of you when you're gone . . . what will you think, at all? Exactly.
Scrooge was right. He was right in his sense of "humbug" about so much of the Christmas seasonal celebration, and in his resistance to letting the sentiment of the season slosh around and easily move him to current conformity.
Scrooge was also right in the end, to repent. Not so much to turn away from the stern stuff that was at the heart of his make-up, his hard-earned stoicism in the face of disappointment and tragedy. No, not that sort of repentance, the turning away *from* something.
Scrooge was right to turn towards something; he turned (the core meaning of "repent") towards hope and happiness and joy and a restored sense of self by finding your purpose in serving others. That warm and steady source of light is what Scrooge turned towards, and he was absolutely right to do so.
We all have some Scrooge in us, and we are mostly right to feel that way during this mixed and muddled time of year. We are also well advised to repent right along with old Ebenezer, for "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. . . he became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he's had his Scrooge moments often enough. Tell him your stories of Christmas past, present, and future at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.