Bah! Humbug!

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Bah! Humbug!

by Charlie Smith


Bah! Humbug! Who said it best? Why, of course, that classic figure from English literature, Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Dickens writes:


“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind stone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke shrewdly in his grating voice.


“On Christmas Eve Scrooge sits at his desk in his country house office. Bob Cratchit, his underpaid clerk, sits shivering in the next room. Scrooge’s nephew comes to the office. “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you.”


“Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug! … Merry Christmas! What’s Christmastime to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books.


“If I could work my will,” Scrooge says to his startled nephew, “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. He should.”


And, so, a hearty “Bah! Humbug!” to you this day, as so many in the church world strive to hold back the Christmas tide, insisting that this is Advent, a time for expectant waiting, and not yet Christmas. But we are already probably too late.


While the major theme of Advent is hope, there is a lot about the world that is devoid of hope. Far easier to fall into a mood of “Bah! Humbug!” Still, lest I be accused of squelching anyone’s desire to enthusiastically ring the bell at our Salvation Army kettle stations, let’s all pledge this season to pursue Advent hope, not humbug-gery. A hope captured by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who wrote that the day is coming when people will stream to the mountain of God; the nations will come, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.


That vision of peace seems an impossible dream today. Way beyond hope. Much easier to emulate Scrooge. Bah! Humbug! AND WHAT IS THAT INFERNAL NOISE?


It’s singing. Because music and singing – even Christmas carols during Advent – are the best ways I know to lift our spirits. Pastor, author and lyricist Paul Simpson Duke suggests this: Imagine Isaiah and his prophecies as a play. The curtain rises. The prophet walks into the darkened stage in a circle of light. He begins to sing – of a mountain, and of nations streaming to it willing to hear holy instruction and be judged by it, willing also to make peace with each other.


The song ends. Another sound rises. Bah! Humbug! WHAT IS THAT? It’s the ringing sound of hammers striking metal. It’s the sound of swords and spears beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks. This is what it sounds like. This is what it looks like: At St. Louis University is a Jesuit chapel that is creatively lit. The light fixtures are made of 20th century cannon shells, converted and emptied of their lethal contents.


We’re not there yet. But that’s the precious message of Advent hope, the countercultural, counterintuitive good news. That in spite of what is going on in the world, a day of peace is coming.




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