Saturday, December 1, 2007

Who is a scrooge?

Sometimes those called "scrooges" in our culture are not really like the Scrooge from Charles Dickens' classic story entitled "A Christmas Carol." Dickens described Ebenezer Scrooge as "tight-fisted" and the story emphasizes his steadfast refusal to help the poor. Scrooge was filthy rich and he was proud of the fact that he would not share the tiniest portion of his wealth with those in need.

According to a "scrooge" is "any miserly person," which is a definition in keeping with the conduct of Ebenezer Scrooge. However, the label "scrooge" in our culture often has an entirely different sense. At least it does in my personal experience.

I suppose I am a bit sensitive about this matter because, from time to time, I have been accused of being a scrooge at Christmas time. However, I have never been labelled in this way for being tight-fisted toward the poor. Rather, I have been called a scrooge for expressing dislike for a couple of the most popular features of a traditional Christmas in our society.

We celebrate the coming of Jesus who came to "proclaim good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18), and who said that we should see his face in the faces of the poor and needy and help them accordingly (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus' birth is the ultimate in giving away everything to help those in need (2 Corinthians 8:9). Mary said that, in the coming of Jesus, God "filled the hungry with good things but . . . sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:53, TNIV).

So it would make sense that we would mark the coming of one who gave everything to help the needy by making assistance of the needy the top priority, but we generally don't. Most of the Christmas time, energy and money in this society are devoted to buying gifts that will be soon forgotten for people who didn't need them in the first place. Our children tend to get more excited about the coming of a mythical character who I will not name instead of the coming of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We, with our main Christmas tradition, nurture consumerism rather than sacrifice for the needy.

From time to time, from the pulpit and at home, I have pointed out my dislike of our standard Christmas gift giving and receiving priorities. I have mentioned that I do not think it is good to encourage among our children the veneration of that mythical character. I make a point not to be a grump in so doing. Nonetheless I have been called a scrooge because I do not embrace our Christmas consumerism and the trickery associated with a certain Christmas myth.

It is true that Scrooge despised the standard Christmas traditions of his day and I don't care for some of our modern Christmas practices. Yet this is where the comparison stops as far as I can tell. It seems to me that those who embrace the Christmas consumerism of our culture share more of a kinship with Scrooge.

Scrooge withheld his money from the needy at Christmas time and, for the most part, we do too. Many will give a little to help the poor, but that figure tends to pale in comparison to the amount that most spend on unneeded gifts for those who are not poor. Such a lack of generosity toward the poor is pretty doggone Scrooge-like.

So who are the scrooges among us?