Is redemption possible for Ebenezer Scrooge? Pastor and author Matt Rawle believes so as he discovers the teachings of Jesus in the words of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Rawle dives deep into the dark, sad, greedy world of Scrooge and discovers a man in dire need of a second chance. Along with Scrooge, we meet the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and in the process learn about living with and for others in a world blessed by Jesus. Rediscover and reinvigorate your Christian faith this Advent and Christmas season and look at this familiar classic through the lens of faith.
The Youth Study Book interprets Scrooge, his struggles, and his redemption in a way that youth can relate to and understand, using humor, down-to-earth discussion, and examples from contemporary culture. For young people grades 6-12. Includes leader helps with discussion questions and can be used with the adult-level DVD.
- Bah! Humbug!
- The Remembrance of Christmas Past
- The Life of Christmas Present
- The Hope of Christmas Future
About the Author
Matt Rawle is Lead Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana. Matt is an international speaker who loves to tell an old story in a new way, especially at the intersection of pop culture and the church. He is the author of a new series of books titled The Pop in Culture Series. The series includes The Faith of a Mockingbird, Hollywood Jesus, The Salvation of Doctor Who and The Redemption of Scrooge.
Read an Excerpt
The Redemption of Scrooge Youth Study Book
By Mike Poteet
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2016 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Don't Let Them Call You Scrooge!
A few holiday seasons ago, Sedalia, Missouri, resident Kevin Walker decorated his front lawn for Christmas. But Walker didn't set up a Nativity scene or an inflatable, illuminated Santa. He decorated his lawn with a Grim Reaper, a tombstone, and a black wreath with Bah Humbug in glittery letters.
As you might guess, plenty of neighbors called to complain. Walker told a local radio station the display was his protest of all the commercial hype surrounding Christmas in the United States. But what did the station call him in its coverage? "The biggest Scrooge in America."
Like Grinch, the word Scrooge has entered our culture's common vocabulary. Even people who've never read A Christmas Carol know the term Scrooge is used to describe someone who doesn't enjoy Christmas. If you aren't feeling holly, jolly, ho-ho-ho, you'd better keep those feelings to yourself unless you want someone to say, "Stop being such a Scrooge!"
But let's be honest. Not everything about Christmas is so great, is it?
Kevin Walker has a point. Did you know that in 2015, the average American planned to spend $882 on Christmas gifts? That's a lot of money for presents given in honor of a baby born into poverty two thousand years ago.
And for a holiday about a "silent night" when "all was calm," Christmas in America sure gets busy and loud. One of the "must-see" holiday highlights near me is a sound-and-light show full of animated toy soldiers and Nutcracker-dancing ballerinas, shown on a 2,100 -square-foot, high-resolution LED video wall. It's impressive, but hardly conducive to sleeping in heavenly peace.
What drives me craziest about Christmas are those radio stations that interrupt their regular programming for a month (or more) of nonstop holiday songs. Turn on those stations and you'll hear "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Winter Wonderland" for the umpity-umpth time. How many versions of "Let It Snow" does the world really need?
Am I sounding Scrooge-ish yet?
Actually, I enjoy more about the Christmas season than I don't. But I do think our culture makes people who are feeling bad at Christmas feel even worse by insisting that it's the hap-happiest season of all. What about families who can't afford nearly $900 worth of Christmas gifts, because they're struggling to pay the monthly bills? What about people who crave peace and quiet because daily life stresses them out? What about folks who flinch when they hear "it's the most wonderful time of the year" because the loss of a loved one or a job or their health is too recent, too raw?
If you don't happen to feel merry this Christmas, that's okay. Just don't let anyone call you a Scrooge! Because guess what? In A Christmas Carol, not even Scrooge is a "Scrooge" the way our culture uses the word. He's actually far worse off — and no one who's already feeling down in December deserves to be accused of being like him!
Scrooge's World of One
When Scrooge threatens to hit a young caroler who's warbling outside his office door, he's not just sick and tired of holiday songs. He's lashing out at what the best of those songs represent.
A little earlier, Scrooge's nephew describes Christmas as "a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time ... when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely" (Stave One) to each other, especially to "people below them" in society. But when this boy "below" Scrooge dares sing a Christmas song — probably hoping to get a little food or money in return, as was the custom — Scrooge hears only an unwelcome demand on his time and resources.
For Scrooge, Christmas is nothing but an intrusion into the world he's built for himself, a world with a population of one. The narrator tells us Scrooge likes to "edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance" (Stave One). His last name, Scrooge, was Victorian slang for "squeeze," and his fixation on money has "scrooged" everyone else — along with all friendship, love, and compassion — out of his life.
Scrooge is "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner" (Stave One). His worst sin is the way he shoves other people aside — human beings who, in his nephew's words, "really [are] fellow-passengers" (Stave One) through life. When we forget that people around us are human, especially people less fortunate than we are, we run the risk of becoming less human ourselves.
A Scriptural Scrooge
Scrooge is so miserly with money, you might not notice how much he's like a rich man Jesus told a story about (see Luke 16:19-31). Unlike Scrooge, the rich man in Jesus' story spends wealth freely, but only on himself. He wears robes of purple fabric (very expensive in the ancient world and often reserved for royalty). He eats lavish feasts daily. He never spares a thought for Lazarus, the beggar who lies at his house's gate, sick and covered with sores, with only the wild and dirty dogs that lick his wounds for company. Lazarus would have been happy to eat crumbs from the rich man's table, but the man either doesn't know Lazarus is at the door or doesn't care (and neither explanation puts him in a very good light).
Nothing about this sorry situation changes until Lazarus and the rich man both die. Then everything changes. Angels escort Lazarus to a heavenly banquet, where he reclines next to no less a VIP than Abraham, first ancestor of the people of Israel. But the rich man is "tormented in the place of the dead" (Luke 16:23). When the man asks why, Abraham explains that he "received good things [in life] whereas Lazarus received terrible things" (Luke 16:25).
Even now the rich man still thinks only about himself. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to him with cool water, and to warn his brothers about "this place of agony" (Luke 16:28). Even in his awful afterlife, the rich man is treating Lazarus as less than human, with no identity of his own. He could have bridged the distance between Lazarus and himself when Lazarus was on the rich man's doorstep. Now the gap between them is fixed in Lazarus's favor.
Mary's Christmas Carol
Jesus' story illustrates one of his key teachings about the kingdom of God — one day God's rule will be fully revealed and acknowledged, and God's values and priorities will carry the day. "Those who are last" in this world "will be first" in God's world; "those who are first" now "will be last" then (Luke 13:30; see also Matthew 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31). God will not let those who are poor, hungry, and weeping suffer forever (Luke 6:20-21). God will work a wonderful reversal of their fortunes.
That's the message of the "Christmas carol" that Jesus' mother, Mary, sings. When she learns she will give birth, she visits her relative Elizabeth (an older woman pregnant with a miraculous baby, who grows up to become John the Baptist) and sings about what her son's arrival will mean:
With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior ...
[God] has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy. ...
(Luke 1:46-47, 52-54)
Many composers have set Mary's words to music, but I've never heard Mary's "carol" in the shopping malls. Mary's carol reflects different values and priorities. It shifts our focus to those who struggle on society's margins. It promises God will lift up those who are now low and declares that God's kingdom begins to arrive in the birth of Mary's son. If we want to celebrate the birth of this King appropriately, we must pay attention to the people he calls "blessed" (Luke 6:20-21 NRSV). We begin living in God's future world by allowing the people around us, including "the lowly," into our worlds today.
Second Chance at Humanity, With God's Help
When the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, appears to Scrooge, the ghost wears long chains that represent how Marley held back empathy and kindness when still alive. Every failure to lift a finger to help, every time he turned away from someone who suffered, every instance of self-interest at another person's expense — each of these moments added to the length of Marley's chains, link by link and yard by yard.
Marley has learned, too late, that it is not good for human beings to be alone (Genesis 2:18). God created us for community, for connections with other people. Our spirits must, by God's good design, roam beyond the narrow limits of ourselves. That's how we live as human beings.
Using Scrooge's name to scold people who aren't having themselves a merry little Christmas forgets the fact that Scrooge's story is a story of redemption. A Christmas Carol is about Scrooge's second chance to become human.
"A merry Christmas, uncle!" his nephew greets him. "God save you" (Stave One). Those are the first words addressed to Scrooge in the book. And by the book's end, Scrooge is saved — saved from his self-forged "chains" of greed and indifference, saved from self-imposed exile in a world of one. A Christmas Carol never directly says God saves Scrooge, but, as Christians, we believe salvation, in this life as well as the next, comes from no one else.
If someone does try to call you a "Scrooge," ask them instead to call you by Scrooge's given name, Ebenezer. That name means "stone of help." The prophet Samuel set up a "stone of help" where God gave the ancient Israelites victory over their enemies: "The Lord helped us to this very point" (1 Samuel 7:12). By the grace of God, no one is beyond help. Everyone can be named Ebenezer — even Ebenezer Scrooge!
Session 1 Activities
Gather Around the Advent Candles (Group)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned ...
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
and authority will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:2, 6)
I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time ... 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. ... I believe that [Christmas] has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!
— Fred, to his uncle Scrooge (Stave One)
Light one Advent candle.
In some congregations, one of the Advent candles represents peace.
As Stave Two of A Christmas Carol will show us, the Ghost of Christmas Past brings Scrooge a chance to make peace with his own past: to stop struggling against it, to welcome and learn from the lessons its light shows him. Only by accepting the past that cannot be changed can Scrooge find enough peace to move forward and create a better present, for himself and those around him.
The season of Advent looks forward to a day of peace — not only individual, interior peace, but peace between people, even nations, in conflict. In Advent, we look backward to the birth of the Prince of Peace while also looking forward to his return at the end of time, when Christ will finally establish peace over all creation. This "double vision" can bring us the peace we need to speak and act for a better present.
God of the past, the present, and time yet to come:
As we remember the ways by which we have come to this day,
We thank you for whatever signs of your presence and help we've seen,
whether dim and faint or blazing bright.
Teach us to count and live out our days as signs of your presence for others.
Make us people who speak peaceful words and live peaceful lives
that all may know Jesus is Emmanuel, God With Us.
And by your Spirit, bless us, every one, this day and always.
Sing (or read aloud) together:
God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior was born on upon this day,
To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
Now to the Lord sing praises all, you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
— traditional English carol
Large Group Activities
Icebreaker Activity (optional)
In small groups of 2-4 people, take turns rolling a six-sided die. Respond to the prompt below that corresponds to the number you roll.
1 – The Christmas tradition I look forward to the most is _____________ because ...
2 – One Christmas tradition I've never understood is _________________ because ...
3 – The strangest thing I do at Christmas time is ...
4 – One Christmas tradition I absolutely dread is ________________ because ...
5 – The person (other than Jesus) I most associate with Christmas is ____________ because ...
6 – My favorite piece of Christmas music is ______________ because ...
There are no right or wrong answers! As time and total group size allow, form new small groups and roll the die again for new Christmas conversations.
Watch the Story (video)
Watch whatever portion of your chosen film version of A Christmas Carol (see Introduction) corresponds to Stave One of the book (begin at the beginning, and stop when Marley's ghost leaves Scrooge).
Discuss these questions:
On a scale of 1 ("He just seems like he woke up on the wrong side of the bed") to 5 ("I wouldn't wish this guy on my worst enemy!"), how would you rate this movie's Scrooge for nastiness? Why?
How does this version portray Christmas as the "kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time" Scrooge's nephew says it is?
How terrifying is Marley in this video? How intense is his interaction with Scrooge, and how does Scrooge respond to him?
Parable Pantomime (Bible study; drama)
Turn in your Bible to Luke 16:19-31. This Scripture contains a story Jesus told. Read the passage to yourself. When everyone has finished reading, choose four people to act it out. One person will be the narrator, while the other three — playing Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham — will pantomime (act without speaking) appropriate actions as the narrator reads. (You may also want people to play the dogs in verse 21 — no real licking, please! — and the angels in verse 22.)
After the show, discuss these questions:
How do the rich man and Lazarus experience a reversal in this story?
Why do you think the rich man never helped Lazarus?
How do you think Jesus wanted to use this story to tell us about God?
Do you think people who are poor hear this story different from people who are rich? Why?
What details do you imagine Jesus would include if he were telling this story today?
Mary's "Christmas Carol" (Bible study; music)
Turn in your Bible to Luke 1:46-55. This Scripture is often called the "Magnificat" (mahg-NIFF-ee-caht) after the Latin translation of Mary's first words ("My soul magnifies," verse 46 NRSV). Read the passage aloud, each reader or group of readers taking one verse. Discuss these questions:
For what specific reasons does Mary praise God in this Scripture?
What do Mary's words tell us about God?
What are some specific ways the world will be different when the reversals Mary describes happen?
How are the changes Mary describes proof of God's "mercy" (verse 54)?
Although the text doesn't specifically say Mary sang her Magnificat, many composers have set her words to music. Search the web for and listen to at least two different versions of the Magnificat, preferably one older and one more recent. (You might also check your congregation's hymnal or songbook to see if it includes music based on this Scripture.) How well does the music in each of these versions communicate the meaning and emotion of the Magnificat?
For an extra challenge, create your own musical setting of the Magnificat! Paraphrase the words to set them to a tune you know, or make up your own melody. Sing with or without instruments. Record your version and post it on your congregation's/youth ministry's website.
Small Group Activities
Dead Nail, Live Energy! (science)
A Christmas Carol begins by stressing that Jacob Marley, Scrooge's business partner, "was as dead as a door-nail" (Stave One). If we don't appreciate that fact, the narrator assures us, "nothing wonderful can come of the story" (Stave One) to follow.
Excerpted from The Redemption of Scrooge Youth Study Book by Mike Poteet. Copyright © 2016 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Session 1: Bah! Humbug!,
Session 2: The Remembrance of Christmas Past,
Session 3: The Life of Christmas Present,
Session 4: The Hope of Christmas Future,