My family and I watched a Muppet Christmas Carol last night. If you haven’t seen it, please change that as quickly as possible. In one of the early scenes, Ebenezer Scrooge walks the streets of London while a chorus of Muppets sing a song explaining that he is a miserly, miserable, lonely old man. As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder if having a bunch of people follow me around on the street singing about how I was “the undisputed master of the underhanded deed” might make me a bit grumpy about Christmas as well.
Over the course of the movie, which is actually very faithful to the source material given that all but one of the characters are played by Muppets, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts, Christmas Past, Present, and Future. In Scrooge’s past, we see a sad and lonely child, who grows into a young man who finds love, which he then loses in a misguided attempt to secure their financial future. In his present he sees his colleagues and clients mocking his loneliness and resenting his cruelty, except for Bob Crachit, an employee he’s gravely mistreated, standing up for him for being the reason they have a Christmas dinner at all, no matter how meager. Scrooge warms to him and his family, seeing them eat their meal, and he asks the ghost about their youngest son, Tiny Tim, who is very sick.
The ghost tells him the truth, that the son likely won’t make it. When Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmases yet to come, he is taken to a future where Scrooge has died and, and so has Tiny Tim. Scrooge is heartbroken, pleading with the ghost to change the story, to make this not the future, asking for time to change his ways.
Scrooge, of course, awakens, and it is still Christmas Day. He still lives, and so does Tiny Tim. He is overjoyed and forever transformed and shows great generosity to everyone he sees, especially the Cratchits.
The way I have always imagined the moral of the story is that Scrooge is so terrified by the consequences of his cruelty that he desperately tries to do the opposite and fix his mistake. I have always understood the inflection point, the moment of transformation, to be when Scrooge sees his own grave, next to Tiny Tim’s.
But what if that’s not entirely it? What if the moment of change is earlier? What if Scrooge’s transformation begins not with the Ghost of Christmas Future, but the Ghost of Christmas Present? What if it begins with Bob Crachit, thanking him and asking God to bless him for providing the income (however small) to put food on his family’s table?
I wonder if Ebenezer Scrooge is solidified into isolation and miserly-ness by being called a miser and a loner all his life, and by a city of singing Muppets? And I wonder if he is invited into generosity by being treated as though he already has been generous? As though he’s capable of being a force for good?
I wonder what changes Scrooge is not the threat of the death of Tiny Tim but the implication that Scrooge may be able to save him?
We can tend to become who people say that we are. This has powerful implications for those of us who work in the Church world, because we are about the work of naming and claiming identity for ourselves and others. We call all people Beloved children of God. We call all people God’s own. We call all people forgiven, redeemed, transformed in the love of Christ.
What if that could change the people we serve? What if calling people good, over and over and over again could be one of the most transformative services we offer to those in our community?
We’ll take a break from the newsletter next week to celebrate Christmas, but we want to leave you with this word: you are good, you are loved, you are changing your community for the better. God entered this world for you, and for your whole congregation, and has trusted you to tell them about it. You are doing a beautiful and sacred thing, and you are doing a dang-good job of it.
Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone.