Years ago, as a little child, my mother took me to a production the Jesus People Church was doing of The Gospel According to Scrooge. More than an intriguing title, the musical was an adaptation of Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol with a focus on the gospel of transformation. The captivating and convicting story of Scrooge has elevated Dickens’ novel to a Christmas classic.
The popularity of the central character led to the word ‘scrooge’ entering the dictionary defined as a mean or miserly person. His story of transformation is deeply rooted in generous justice. It’s a perfect story to revisit as we consider how to use our money this Christmas! Let’s begin by looking at his name – Ebenezer Scrooge.
What’s in a name?
For Dickens the name Scrooge came from an old English word which is no longer used – scrouge – meaning to squeeze or press. Miserly and mean. The word ebenezer means stone of help. Dickens knew well the hymn, “Come thou fount of every blessing” written by 22 year old pastor Robert Robinson in 1757. The hymn speaks of transformation from the rock that is our help – Jesus. “Here I raise my Ebenezer; Here by Thy great help I’ve come.”
Both Dickens and Pastor Robinson were building on the ebenezer raised by Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:2-14. Samuel raised this ebenezer to remind Israel of their folly. In chapter 4 we find them marching off to battle on their own and they bring God along in the ark. The ark is captured and Israel defeated. Why? Because they did not seek God but chose their own path and simply wanted Him to bless it. We still do that. May we remember, like Israel, the folly of putting anything but God first. He alone is our help. Ebenezer Scrooge certainly needed to learn this lesson.
Lesson 1: The purpose of business and problem of Scrooge
Dickens was famously critic of institutions – both business and the church. He was a justice advocate who believed strongly in loving your neighbor and giving a cup of cold water to those in need. His writings challenged the church when it cared more about itself than vulnerable neighbors. He had the same challenge for the business community, beginning with Scrooge and all who believed gold mattered more than God.
Jacob Marley – a good man of business.
Jacob Marley appears to Scrooge as a ghost carrying a long, oppressive chain. Another poignant lesson in contrast, this partner who Scrooge was “always a good man of business”, is in captivity. He shrieks,
“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.”
Both Scrooge and Marley believed the purpose of business was making money. Profit over people. “It’s just business.” Many people today would agree. But greed is a heavy and unhappy chain. The irony is that Scrooge is wealthy but miserable. The very object he believed would provide more choices, opportunity and happiness has become a chain that prevents true freedom. The love of money is always an oppressive master.
Jesus Christ sets captives free
Jesus came to break such chains. He clearly stated his mission,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Lk. 4:18
Dickens loved Jesus and his call to love all people and set free the oppressed. He intentionally contrasted the oppression of the poor with the oppression of the rich. Both are captives. Both need to be set free.
Lesson 2: People over profits and the promise of Ebenezer
The best business leaders understand this simple truth. Ask yourself – “What am I in business for?” If your answer is to make money then you are on the path of Scrooge. You may not think so, but neither did Scrooge. If your answer is people then you are in the right business.
We could feel sorry for Scrooge. He grew up with a strict father he rarely saw. Only his sister Fan seemed to show some tenderness toward him. Her death in giving birth to her son, Fred, removed Scrooge’s one friend. Life is hard. We don’t choose many of the circumstances that befall us, but the hope of Ebenezer is that our tomorrows are not controlled by our yesterdays. That is the hope of Jesus, our true Ebenezer.
Fezziwig vs. Scrooge
Dickens reminds us of the importance of people in business through a contrast in two employers – Fezziwig and Scrooge. Fezziwig was not wealthy but he held a festive party every Christmas for his employees. He was a warm, encouraging boss. He was generous. In contrast Scrooge was demanding of his one employee. He imposed strict rules, quotas and a stark working environment. Scrooge cared nothing for Cratchit who was merely a means to turn a profit.
Which side do you lean toward? Do you encourage employees or are you more concerned about the bottom line?
Can you identify with Scrooge? Do you think money and success will bring happiness? Be honest. You have a dream and know if you can just achieve financial success your worries will disappear. You’ll be free.
Scrooge believed that. He had a wonderful young fiancé named Belle. But Scrooge was so concerned about building his business he failed to build relationships and he lost Belle in the process.
“Ebenezer, I release you. You are a free man. I let you go with a full heart. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.”
I know too many business friends who are divorced partly for this reason. Money remains the number one cause of divorce. Behind that always lies a power struggle. Money subtly becomes master. Because this is my money, things will be done my way. You don’t appreciate all the hard work I do to provide and make this lifestyle possible.
The great irony of life is the more a person possesses, the more possessed the person becomes. Concerns only multiply with more.
Dickens contrast this with Fred, a poor, delightful nephew who refuses to give up on his Uncle Scrooge. The book says it best,
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Tiny Tim – Truth often comes in small packages
Tiny Tim is a central figure in Scrooge’s transformation. Scrooge is confronted with a small boy who profoundly understands the world. As Bob tells his wife,
“Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Scrooge never noticed the Tiny Tim’s of the world. He famously refused to help those less fortunate claiming that was why he paid taxes. Better people die and decrease the surplus population. Scrooge’s death scene includes happiness caused by his death in a young couple who would have been homeless because Scrooge was foreclosing on them.
Business today is too often focused on profit over people. Unfair lending practices, employment practices and exploitation continue. People are commodities. The poor continue to be demonized. My taxes pay for that. Why should it be any of my concern?
Generosity changes everything
Scrooge is set free from his possessions through generosity. No longer Scrooge, he is Ebenezer – a stone of help. Ebenezer helps Tiny Tim and is generous toward those in need. Like Zaccheus, his changed heart leads to an open hand. He is generous with his employee. He is generous with love and laughter.
Following Jesus changes everything. Dickens loved Jesus because he saw a man who forsook the riches of heaven to care for the sick, the poor and the outcast. He gave his very life to set us free from sin and the oppressive chains that bind us.
Dickens’ conclusion should be a prayer for us all:
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
This Christmas, see your resources in a new light. Use your business and your money to free people from legal chains that bind them. You can encourage your church to launch a Gospel Justice Center serving neighbors in need. You can be a Torchlighter for a community with high needs and little resources. Make a difference in someone’s life today. Be Ebenezer not Scrooge.