Something occurred to me after the 40-something-th time I watched Muppets Christmas Carol and Scrooge the musical this year. If it has occurred to you before, well let’s just say I’m slow.
As you know, Ebenezer Scrooge is a character that starts off mean and cruel, ridiculously wealthy but stingy, and as a result of the story, we often call people who are like this, particularly around the holidays, a “scrooge.” His very name became synonymous with miser and defined by his hatefulness and greed. This is the part that occurred to me… he didn’t stay that way. He changed. In the very words of Dickens, “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.” That’s quite a statement and nothing short of a miracle.
So how come we don’t use the name scrooge for people who change? Why doesn’t it mean something like “a person who totally sucks and then has a seriously epic intervention and becomes an amazing example of human kindness for all the world to see?”
I’ll tell you why. We focus on the negative. Even in the face of miracles, we’re fixated on the bad part of the story. We have a hard time letting go of the past and what we think we have come to know about a person. We have a hard time truly forgiving the character flaws and deep regrettable sins against us, keeping long lists of the pain and misery we have felt. In a word, we are scrooges. We like holding onto bitterness. It’s almost fun.
Bitterness, you could say, is a result of only visiting with the Ghost of Christmas Past. You relive all the tragic turns of your life, those choices you regret making or the hurts of the choices of others. And if you stay there, you become cold and lonely, angry at yourself and closing your heart off to others.
When you are visited with Christmas Present, you may find yourself bitter too from all the missed expectations – whether you find you can’t live up to other people’s expectations of you, or that no one else can live up to yours – and the lack of joy you feel, envious of others who seem so merry and bright. When you look around on the holidays, you just feel a bit empty or even abandoned in some ways.
And then to look to the Future just makes you feel fear and grief. Losing loved ones, or facing death yourself may be overwhelming and dark, causing despair or crippling you with fear, or it may turn your heart cold and resistant in an effort to self-protect and shut out any sign of weakness.
In some ways, I felt a little closer to Scrooge this year than I had before. Things weren’t going the way I wanted them to and difficulties in life were clouding my joy. A false merriment didn’t seem the answer for me. But remembering the story of Ebenezer reminded me how we do need to look to the past, present and future, and not just our own, but the entire story – God’s story – the one that defines us, tells us who we are and where we are going. I was reminded how I am not the same as I once was and that with every day I breathe I have the opportunity to change and make life better for those around me. I have the chance to serve and to freely give of whatever I have, to show kindness and mercy as I have been shown.
So go ahead and call me Scrooge. I hope to end up quite a lot like him.