Be A Scrooge
Christmas is a wonderful time of giving. Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol illustrates how the spirit of the season can transform the meanest of souls; even a Scrooge can exchange stinginess for generosity. But what happens when January blows the New Year in? Christmas trees shed their baubles and are folded into impossibly small boxes, stockings are stuffed into crawl space corners, sale tags disappear from shops, and dreary skies replace fall’s crisp sunshine. The ubiquitous Salvation Army bell-ringers vanish leaving no one to spur us on to the good deeds we did in December.
James, bishop of the fledgling early church in Jerusalem, had a similar problem on his hands. He had hundreds of believers in this new faith, ‘The Way”, followers who had been caught up in the excitement of a December-season of sorts; the risen Christ had left earth with a promise to return. Believers were convinced His second advent was imminent and some felt that loving deeds were passé – looking to the future was the thing to do! Some were so heavenly minded that while they simply exuded words of well-wishing to needy folk, they did nothing of practical help.
In exasperation, James pens, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” and again, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Rather extreme statements, aren’t they? And yet, it makes sense, don’t you think? You’ve heard the old adage that if you say you believe the chair will hold you, but refuse to sit in it, your belief is imaginary. It speaks of self-deception. We may like the sound of believing in a certain thing or person, but when it costs us to act on that ‘faith’ we find out just how authentic our faith is.
Yet, according to this first-century bishop, even the most deeply motivated person at times finds it difficult to breach the chasm between fine-sounding words of faith and the actions that must accompany it. How do we keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the many days of 2014?
Perhaps the secret lies in that second phrase penned by James. He compares faith to the body, and deeds to the spirit. It sounds backwards at first glance, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t faith go with spirit, and deeds go with body, rather? The former are the more ethereal, intangible, abstract properties, the later more concrete. Yet James distinctly correlates the deeds of faith with a body’s spirit. (Now if your interest has been piqued, go to the book of James, chapter 2, verses 14-26, reading the last verse in particular).
Here’s one idea. Perhaps our obedience to Christ’s command of loving one another can only be accomplished authentically when His Spirit is indwelling us. None of us are genuine people of faith any other way. Our actions illustrate our willing submission to Jesus’ primary command that we love both God and others; this compliance allows the Holy Spirit to move us to do love rather than merely feel love or say love. The Spirit of God is all about action. He loves to create and recreate, reform and transform, give and forgive. We, His people, are His conduits of this active love, and He has chosen to do it through us.
This New Year’s Resolution to continue on with loving others who need practical expressions of love from us becomes a core issue in our faith. Do you see it that way too? Dickens did.
He observes, “Scrooge was even better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city ever knew. Or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world.”
This good old world of 2014 needs more Scrooges. Will you be one?
(Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk)