A Modern Christmas Carol

This is my modern retelling of the unsurpassed classic by Charles Dickens. It was originally told as a sermon on 11-29-09.


21st century America.

The Scrooge of today is a Christian and, like many others, celebrates this season and holiday in December that we call Christmas. But these days, around Christmas time, Scrooge is in a bad mood. He’s in a bad mood for a couple of reasons. One, he’s got too much to do.  Kids’ Christmas pageants, shopping, traveling, parties (his calendar is filled up with them), decorating, door-buster deals, and of course, all the stuff his church is asking him to do. He’s in a bad mood. He also has a lot of letters to write and protests to attend. Why is that? Well, you see, the other reason Scrooge is in a bad mood at Christmas time is because he thinks there’s a secular, liberal assault on his holiday. He has joined causes like “Keep Christ in Christmas” and gives a piece of his mind to anyone who has the audacity to call it a “Holiday tree” instead of a Christmas tree. You can almost see smoke come out of his ears when store clerks greet him by saying, “Happy Holidays.” He finds himself wanting to grab them by the neck and say, “It’s Christmas, you infidel! Say Merry Christmas!” His mood is fueled by news commentators and authors who talk about the “war on Christmas.”

One night, Scrooge came home exhausted. No time for his family. He went straight to bed. But before he fell asleep, he was visited by the ghost of his old business partner and close friend, Jacob, who had died seven years ago. They went to everything together. All the pageants, all the parties, and all the protests. They used to sit at the table in coffee shops trading barks about how the good old days are gone and godless people are taking over the world. But his friend was here for a very different reason tonight. Jacob spoke with painful tears about the things he has learned after passing into the next life. He tells Scrooge that they spent all those years entirely missing the point and ignoring the things and the people that would have brought them closer to the manger of Jesus around Christmas time. 

“Scrooge,” Jacob says, “the man we call our Lord and Savior told us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, and all that time, we missed it.” 

Scrooge wasn’t following. Perhaps we was too tired. He says to Jacob, “But it’s just that we were always about the Lord’s business.”

Jacob all but lunges at Scrooge and screams, "The Lord’s business?! Mankind is the Lord’s business. The common welfare is the Lord’s business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence are all His business. Our version of Christianity was but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of the Lord’s business!"

Before leaving, Jacob tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits.

At night, Scrooge is awoken by a glowing spirit that looked like a child and an old man at the same time. He introduces himself as the Ghost of Christmas Past. He says to Scrooge, “Come with me. I’m going to take you back to the very first Christmas.” In all the hustle of what modern Christmas had become, Scrooge didn’t immediately know what the ghost meant. But then it hit him. Ah yes! He would get to see it! The birth of Jesus! Was he actually going to witness this remarkable event?

With the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge arrived in Bethlehem. And what struck him first was how unremarkable it was. It was a small town. It was dark and dusty. And it was the weirdest thing…it wasn’t all that cold, nor was it snowing. But Scrooge was still ecstatic about what he might witness. They walked by a larger building that looked like it had several families in it. They came around a corner, and suddenly the ghost stopped. 

“Where are we?” asked Scrooge.
“We’re here,” Christmas Past said.
Scrooge turned, and was shocked by what he saw. A slimy, new-born baby lying in a dirty, stinky feeding trough. Baby Jesus? It can’t be. His head’s not glowing! And he’s crying!

“Spirit, I thought baby Jesus didn’t cry!” Scrooge said.

The spirit rolled his eyes. “This is the real deal, Scrooge. You got that idea from the song ‘Away in a Manger’ that was written in 1885.”

He saw Joseph. He saw Mary…she’s just a teenager, she has no business having a baby! They all looked dirty and tired. They also looked middle-eastern; Scrooge wasn’t comfortable with that. He looked over…those must be the shepherds. They smell like sheep.

And that was it.

Scrooge turned to Christmas Past. “THIS is the birth of Christ? It can’t be! Where are the lights and music and the glory?! This can’t be the right place. This is just a bunch of dirty, poor, homeless people!” 
At this, Christmas Past immediately raised his finger and said to Scrooge, “Yes, it is. That’s the story of Christmas, Scrooge. When God came into our world, this is where He chose to come.” 

Scrooge turned again to look at Mary. “She doesn’t look peaceful and joyful,” he said.

“She just had a baby after a long journey and with no pain killers, Scrooge,” Christmas Past replied. “Oh, but Scrooge, she is thankful. Do you remember what she said when she found out that Elizabeth was also pregnant with a promised child? Her words are in your Bible in Luke 1:46-55."

As the spirit read this familiar passage to Scrooge, he was struck by the stark contrast of this attitude with his own. Gratitude and humility.

They moved on. The Ghost of Christmas Past took Scrooge so many places his head was starting to spin. He took Scrooge to the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century when the worship of sun gods and the winter solstice were commandeered by the now Christian empire and December 25th was declared a Christian holiday.

‘It wasn’t always celebrated on that day?’ Scrooge thought to himself.

Christmas Past took him to the time of King Richard II in the 14th century when large feasts were first starting to become associated with Christmas, and even then was only an indulgence of royalty. He took him to 16th century Germany where some place the origin of the Christmas tree. While Scrooge was coming to terms with the fact that Christmas trees were only several hundred years old...just for fun, Christmas Past read to Scrooge from Jeremiah 10:3-4: “For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a skilled worker shapes it with a chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.”

Christmas Past took Scrooge to 19th century England during the reign of Queen Victoria and showed him how many of our modern day Christmas traditions began there. Decorations, manufactured ornaments, parties, and caroling…all unknown to Christmas until the Victorian era. By the time their trip was over, the spirit had shown Scrooge that Christmas, as it exists today in modern day America, did not take on its full, current form until well into the 20th century.

Suddenly, Scrooge found himself back in his bed, struggling to process all that had happened to him. He couldn’t get over the idea that all of the stuff he spent so much time on during Christmas really had nothing to do with the birth of Christ. He hadn’t been able to fall back asleep before the Ghost of Christmas Present paid him a visit. “Come with me,” the spirit said, “and I’m going to show you sides of modern day Christmas you never knew about.”

Scrooge finds himself in the back of a shopping center where restaurant servers and store employees are taking a break. They’re talking to each other and are clearly irritated and needing to blow off steam. Scrooge listens closer as they talk about how some of the rudest, pushiest, and foul customers they have are the people who come to lunch dressed up on Sunday afternoon or people who are wearing crosses and WWJD bracelets. One girl, close to tears, says, “A friend of mine invited me to church. Ha! There’s no way I’m going near that place.”

Christmas Present then took Scrooge to the home of one of the millions of families who don’t have the money to buy Christmas gifts. Each child opens one small thing and that’s it. But today, both parents have the day off. And their 3 children are so excited that both mommy and daddy get Christmas day off. The family is having fun and is happier than Scrooge can ever remember being with his church or family. 

Christmas Present takes Scrooge to a foreign country. “Christians make up 76% of the population in America,” he told Scrooge, “but in this country, they make up 5%. Christians are not free to worship here.” They come to a dark room where a group of Christians are huddled, celebrating Christmas together in hiding so that they can keep their jobs and their families. “Scrooge,” the spirit says, “you don’t know what persecution is, and it's sickening to hear you say that your holiday is somehow being taken from you.”

Finally, Christmas Present transports Scrooge to another country, a very poor one.  Everywhere, people are living in shacks with dirt floors.  Children are bare-footed and you can see all their bones.  One woman holds a dead toddler in her arms and wails.  Horrified, Scrooge turns to Christmas Present and says, "Take me away!  Why do you show me this?  What does this have to do with me?"  Raising his voice, Christmas Present says, "Are they not of the human race?"  Christmas Present points off to the side and shows Scrooge where women and children are drawing from and bathing in a muddy, dirty body of water.  "It would take approximately $10 billion dollars to provide everyone in the world with access to clean water," the spirit tells Scrooge, "but every year, Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas gifts and entertainment."

With that, the spirit disappears. 

Scrooge turns to find a dark figure standing near him – the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. This spirit doesn’t speak to Scrooge. Scrooge sees shadows that send a chill up his spine. It’s Christmas time sometime in the future, and what he sees represents everything he had feared for some time.  Everyone is melancholy and buried in debt.  No one goes to church. Scrooge sees several houses of worship that are empty or boarded up. He looks for happiness. He looks for hope. And he can’t find it. Scrooge turns to the spirit and begs, “Please, tell me that these shadows can be altered!” The spirit says nothing. As Scrooge looks again at the scenes before him, he becomes enraged. He turns to the spirit and yells, “I demand to see who is responsible for this! I always knew the enemies of Christ would win, I knew it!  Show me who is responsible for the Church being marginalized like this!  Show me who turned Christmas into this!” 

The spirit points behind Scoorge.  

And he turns…to see a mirror with his own reflection.

Scrooge breaks down in tears and pleads with the spirit, “Hear me, I’m not the man I was! From now on, I will sing a different song! When people hear the footsteps of Christians, I don’t want them to hear a marching army coming to domineer and coerce and strongarm. I want them to hear the footsteps of those who bring good news. I want them to hear the soft footsteps of those who come in peace and love. I will sing a new song. I choose the song of Mary (“My soul magnifies the Lord…”)!

This year, Scrooge has changed. This year, Scrooge is going to trade in his doomsday outlook for hope. This year, Scrooge is going to trade in his fighting for peacemaking. He’s going to trade in his disgust for love. He’s going to trade in his contentiousness for joy. 

This year, Scrooge is going to celebrate the birth of Christ.  I hope.

1 comment:

  1. I am sad to say, I can be a bit of a scrooge sometimes. Thanks for sending your tale to awaken me to reality.