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Scrooge-- Alive And Well?
December 8, 1996

2 PETER 3:8-15a

The Grinch that stole Christmas is a modern Christmas villain, but Ebenezer Scrooge is the most famous. Scrooge's name is so synonymous with a certain kind of holiday malevolence that it has gone into our dictionaries. Scrooge was immortalized by Charles Dickens in his short story, Christmas Carol, Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Scrooge is the diametrical opposite of the Christmas spirit.

But, there is a scrooge in the Bible who outdid old Ebenezer! Dickens' Scrooge is a novice compared to the one in the Bible. Ebenezer was eventually converted, so that there was no man in all of London town who celebrated Christmas better than he. But, the scrooge in the Bible was not converted, and Bah! Humbug! lives on. Do you know his name?

The last picture we have of him is sitting outside the city, under a homemade awning to keep out the sun, pouting, sulking, and angry. He was angry at God, angry at God because God is gracious, merciful, abounding in steadfast love, and willing to relent from punishing people who, in the scrooge's mind, deserved to be punished. The ancient scrooge I'm talking about this morning is Jonah. Some of you may be muttering, "Jonah is a fish story, not a Christmas story." Ah, but Jonah, like Ebenezer Scrooge, is the diametrical opposite of the Christmas spirit.

God called Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh to preach the gospel, to tell Nineveh to repent of its wickedness or it would be overthrown. Old scrooge Jonah did not want to cooperate with the program. He ran the other way, as far and as fast as he could. When he reached water, he boarded a ship. But, the Lord sent a huge storm, frightening the sailors who correctly assumed there was someone on board against whom the storm was particularly directed. To Jonah's credit, he confessed he was the culprit. The sailors were reluctant to act, but operating on the ancient principle-- Better Him Than Us-- they threw Jonah overboard where Jonah was swallowed by a large fish.

It doesn't say whale, it says fish. Also, don't get hung up trying to take this literally; it's a story and meant to be a sermon, written in a time when the Jews were becoming very exclusive. Out of an understandable need to preserve their identity in the midst of many foreign powers, they were pulling back into themselves, forbidding interaction with gentiles, and forgetting their mission to preach the gospel to all people, even wicked places like Nineveh.

Jonah was a quick study, and learned his lesson. When the Lord told him a second time to go to Nineveh and proclaim the message that I tell you, Jonah went. He preached in the streets, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" Much to his surprise and to his dismay, the people believed him, even the king. They repented, cried mightily to God, and turned from their evil ways. When God saw what they did (Jonah 3:10), how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. And, Jonah was angry.

Jonah went outside the city, erected an awning to keep out the sun, where he pouted and sulked. Bah, humbug! to all this forgiveness business. He told the Lord, "I knew that's what you would do. That is why I fled. (Jonah 4:2) I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." In the Scripture lesson read this morning, Christians were wondering why Jesus had not yet returned. They were becoming impatient. And the author of 2 Peter told them, The Lord is not slow about his promise, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

The Lord wants everyone to come to repentance and be saved. That's the Christmas message. God loves everyone, and is not willing to give up too soon. The Christmas message is expressed in a single verse. It's in our balcony window. John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. In the Old Testament, we find the same message: God so loved Nineveh that he sent Jonah to preach to them. But, Jonah was a scrooge. He didn't want to see the people of Nineveh saved. They weren't nice folks. They were ruthless in battle and vicious in conquest. They weren't satisfied to defeat their enemies; they delighted in torturing and humiliating them. History reports that when their armies marched into cities and villages, their soldiers raped the women and killed unborn babies. Sounds like Bosnia, Liberia, Rwanda, Zaire. War hasn't changed much over the years.

But, God wanted to celebrate Christmas in Nineveh. Even the monsters of Nineveh were loved by God, and were capable of repentance and redemption. God sent Jonah to preach, but Jonah didn't have the Christmas spirit. God said, "Isn't it wonderful that the people of Nineveh want to be saved?" And Jonah answered, "Bah! Humbug!" Jonah couldn't sing, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" He was willing to sing, "Joy to my people." He might even have gone so far as to sing, "Joy to everyone except the Ninevites," but he couldn't possible sing, "Joy to the world." He wanted to pick out those who were worthy of joy. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonah did not repent. Jonah was not converted. Jonah did not throw open the windows of his house, and order a turkey to be delivered to the home of Bob Cratchett. Jonah never did catch the Christmas spirit.

The story of Jonah, however, is a foreshadowing of what was to come. Jonah was called to preach to his enemies; Jesus was asked to die for them. Jonah was unwilling to go until he was forced to do so; Jesus went gladly and freely to preach the coming of God's kingdom. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a large fish because he was running from God. Jesus spent three days in the belly of a cave tomb because he was running for God. Jonah was imprisoned in a fish because he was disobedient; Jesus was imprisoned in a tomb as an act of obedient love.

Through Jesus, we understand the Christmas message. God cares for all people, not just the attractive people, the chosen people, the deserving people, but God also cares for the people who, by all logic and sense of justice, deserve to be punished, deserve to be despised and rejected. The ultimate act of Christmas is that God loves our world so profoundly that he gave his only Son for our salvation.

This Christmas, let us not be like Jonah and miss the main event. The trappings of modern Christmas are so lovely, it is tempting to lose ourselves in the tinsel and miss the gospel. Let's not miss the real thing. One of my favorite Christmas songs is "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," but I've never seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I sing I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas with the loudest, but don't send me back to Minnesota in the wintertime, please! A white Christmas dream would soon become a nightmare!

What a wonderful time is Christmas, but let's not miss the main event. God so loved us, God sent his Son via a peasant girl from Nazareth. God even loves Nineveh. That's better than chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a white Christmas, a red-nosed reindeer, and mommy kissing Santa Claus! God loves everyone. God loves the Serbs. God loves dictators. God loves the kids who spray graffiti on walls and bridges. God loves the gang kids. God loves your grumpy neighbor. God loves your mean boss. God loves those who hurt you, say unkind things about you, and God asks you to love them as God does. God sends you, like Jonah, to tell and show them.

Some of you have been given the spiritual gift of evangelism and are able to witness, challenge, and lead others to Christ. But, all of us can invite. Christmas is an excellent time to bring people to church with you. Do your children and grandchildren know of God's love? In February we are participating in the Impact World Tour which will be an excellent opportunity for you to invite and take unchurched persons. Pray for God to bring to your consciousness and your heart, persons and families for you to invite.

This Christmas, is Scrooge alive and well? Don't be a scrooge like Jonah and try to keep the gospel for yourself. Don't try to run from the gospel. You might end up in the belly of a lonely, isolated existence. This Christmas, don't be a reluctant Jonah who had to be, shall we say, convinced to go to Nineveh. This Christmas, be a willing messenger of glad tidings and great joy. The situation in Nineveh was so desperate, the people were in such need, that God used even a reluctant Jonah. The situation today is no less desperate. There are throngs of unchurched people in Merced who need Christ. God needs you to share the love of Christ with them.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris