Scrooge, John the Baptist and thoughts on Advent

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This week we head into an interesting season of the year for Christians…the season of Advent.   For most us, Advent is that 3-hour lag between the Thanksgiving turkey and early Black Friday shopping.  For me, that’s usually means an unintentional nap as I “half-watch” a football game that I don’t really care about.  But for more serious Christians, Advent is the 4 weeks before the Eve of our Savior’s Birth when we are called to watch and listen to the dark places of our lives for signs of hope.  Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for Christmas. And by Christmas I don’t mean Jesus’s birthday party (please let’s not turn it into that), but that crucial step we are called to take every year, when we kneel at the manger as a humble shepherd and offer our hearts, wide open, to God’s purposes.

Because of this, I’m a big Scrooge fan.  Always have been.  I love to watch the transformation of that bitter, grumpy, “bah-humbug” of a life!   I love to watch that moment when he wakes up and realizes he still has a chance to “fling the portals of his heart” wide open and embrace the love and the need of the Cratchit family. Throughout the Advent season I will often watch 3 or 4 versions of this classic, and if I get a chance, I almost always try to catch it on stage.  There’s something about Fred Cratchit holding Tiny Tim on his shoulders as Tiny Tim says, “God Bless them Everyone” that causes my heart to swell 2 sizes bigger and puts me in the proper place to kneel at the manger on Christmas Eve.

But if you watch or read this classic, you know that the real mastery of Dickens is not only in the Cratchit family, but also in his use of the ghostly presence of the past, present, and future.  Some might argue that it is the dark night of the soul, and those three ghostly visits, that actually turn Scrooge towards Christmas.   In a way, that dark night of the soul, is Dickens’ nod to the season of Advent.    

Advent is that time where, during the darkest time of the year (for us up in the North), we search our souls for who we have been and who we will become. (Or should I put it: who we have been and who God will help us become?)  

And so, scripturally, if we follow the Advent readings, we read about a crazy “ghost” of a man named John the Baptist who stares at the religious leaders of his day (does that include UM pastors?) and calls them a brood of vipers, just before he turns to us and shouts, “repent!” Advent is about being brave enough to let those crazy eyes penetrate our souls and scare us into action. We also read a strange parable in the 25th chapter of Matthew about lamps and virgins! And we’re left to wonder what kind of oil is left in our lamps. Talk about a shake up!

But is we read on through Advent, the texts aren’t all scary.  For in the darkness of Advent, we are also called to ponder the wonderful poetry of Isaiah (Isaiah 9 and 11) where Isaiah, in the darkest times of Israel’s history, dares to dream of a “wonderful counselor” who will lead us all to a peace where even the “lions will lie down with the lambs”, and a place in history where there will indeed be “no harm on all God’s holy mountain”!  

One of the amazing powers of Advent is coming to the realization that our God is not only Lord of the day, but of the night as well!  For sometimes in the darkness, in our deepest struggles and shadows, God’s grace is most clearly seen and realized. 

Your friend and pastor, inviting you the evening stroll we call Advent, Brook

Tim Schaaf