This is an Advent meditation I wrote at the invitation of Dan Dumas. It was originally posted on his blog earlier today.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!”
“Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure?”
“I do. Merry Christmas? What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
These words are taken from the opening dialogue in Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol. From the beginning, the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is depicted as a man who loathes Christmas. For Scrooge the holiday brings about a torrent of inconveniences. His employees want the day off; local charities want his money; and the cheerful spirit of the season only annoys him. So Scrooge concludes the dialogue with his nephew, “If I could work my will, then every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
Dickens’ indignant and heartless character seems to be contrary to everything we associate with Christmas. However, the first Advent included its own Scrooge figure. Matthew writes of him in his Gospel:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this he was troubled…”
So the wise men are eager and aggressive in their efforts to seek out the new born king and to worship him. But King Herod responds to the report of a new king with Scrooge-like resentment. Herod is troubled; he’s annoyed; he’s bothered. Why? Because Herod the king knows that a new born king of the Jews means that his own kingdom has been invaded. The Advent of a new king means the expulsion of the old king. Herod loathes Christmas.
The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of me
The Advent dilemma that faced Herod is the same one that faces us today, every day. Will we joyously pursue the reign of Christ over our lives, as did the wise men? Or will we selfishly resist God’s heavenly invasion into our world, as did Herod? To embrace the kingdom of heaven is to repudiate the kingdom of me. To embrace the coming Christ is to crucify the autonomous self. Herod knew this. Herod hated this. And his lust for self-rule evolved from being troubled (Matthew 2:3), to being deceptive (2:7), to being murderous (2:16), as Herod slaughtered countless children in his hunt for the new born king. Herod proves to us that stiff-arming the reign of King Jesus is not without its ramifications. The kingdom of me comes undone through our humble submission before Christ’s throne, or it unravels in the moral, spiritual, and social decay that follows our rebellion.
Ebeneezer Scrooge learned this same lesson. By witnessing the sorry life he’d lived (the ghost of Christmas past), the pain he was causing others (the ghost of Christmas present), and his sad death to come (the ghost of Christmas future), Scrooge at last yielded to the spirit of Christmas and opened his heart in love to those around him. Scrooge was finally able to let go of control, especially over his money. He was finally able to give up his rights, specifically over his employees. And this led to a kind of prosperity Scrooge had never known when he sat selfishly on the throne of his life. Scrooge’s happy-ending experience is captured in Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
So how do you respond when you think about the new born king invading your life, your world? Are you troubled along with Herod? This Christmas I encourage you to meditate on the disastrous path of self-rule. And contemplate the true blessedness that comes from joyful worship that puts Jesus at the center of your life. Ask yourself, How am I resisting God’s rule in my life? Where are selfish attitudes and actions showing up? What is my joy-level like when it comes to laying down my rights for the sake of others?
In coming before our King with honesty and humility about our lust for control, there is forgiveness and freedom. May this Christmas season be one of joining the wise men in self-abandonment and rabid seeking after the kingdom of Christ.