This summer, after the excitement of finally being ordained and before we kicked off the Narrative Lectionary this fall, I was feeling pretty good about mapping out a sermon series for July and August. And then, some clever folks who’ve been at this pastoring business way longer than me started talking about planning ahead for advent. Not all of my pastor friends, mind you. But enough that the ideation part of my brain kicked into gear.
This is when I decided to release my inner lit nerd and actually attempt the Advent Series I’ve been wishing someone would do – journey through advent with Ebenezer Scrooge by reading A Christmas Carol together.
Why A Christmas Carol?
- It’s definitely seasonally appropriate
- The basic story is familiar to most age groups via some adaptation, if not the novella itself
- Books are easily accessible to borrow or buy
- The parallels between Dickens’ London and the contemporary US are easily described
- There is a clear connection to the redemptive work of God in our lives
- There is a clear call to justice in Dickens’ understanding of what a redeemed person is meant to be doing
To make sure everyone had access to a book, I ordered a batch of cheap paperbacks on Ebay. Anyone who needed a copy could take one as an advent gift from Pastor Laura. We also did a “movie night” so that folks who aren’t readers would have a chance to refresh their memories of the story. I chose the Muppet Christmas Carol because it appeals across generations.
With 5 staves (chapters), I broke it down to one per week, starting with Advent 1 and ending on Christmas 1, then identified appropriate scriptures based on the themes of each Stave, plus key visual elements to evoke in the worship space. My music director/co-conspirator actually owns a whole Dickens Village set-up, so we were able to include appropriate buildings and characters each week, as well. Here’s a rough outline and a link to the sermons for each.
Stave 1– To set up the work of the Spirits and Scrooge’s ultimate repentance and redemption, I started with Marley’s Ghost in parallel with Nathan. Marley’s chains provided inspiration for visual elements as well as some interactive prayer for the congregation. I spray-painted plastic chains to make them look metallic, then added some lock-boxes, mortgages, ledgers and skeleton keys (from supplies at the local craft store). This hung as a garland from the pulpit in place of the usual paraments and wound down around the communion table. The first week’s interactive prayer was to add links to the chain, each one naming a corporate sin (or personal) of which the church or our nation needs to repent.
Stave 2 – Scrooge’s past invoked the joy and hope we find in community and right relationships, as well as the pain and sorrow of isolation. Isaiah speaks to the hope for the end of exile and a time of reconciliation among the people of Israel and between them and God. I added a paper chain of Gingerbread men connected by hearts to represent the church as a community based on faith, hope and love. Paper snowmen were added with prayers for the relationships that bring us joy and those that are in need of reconciliation.
Stave 3 – The ghost of Christmas Present paired nicely with Luke’s blessings and woes, as Scrooge sees how rich Bob Cratchett and others of meager means actually are in terms of relationships and love. We added greenery around the meal set on the communion table and shared in a responsive Great Prayer of Thanksgiving.
Stave 4 – This is the walk through the valley of the shadow of death for Scrooge. It pairs nicely with John the Baptist’s call to repentance as the messiah comes to separate the wheat and the chaff. What do we have to do if we are to live as people of God? What does Scrooge have to do if he is to change his future, Tiny Tim’s future? The congregation had green holly leaves on which to write the work of love, justice and mercy they committed to in the coming weeks.
Stave 5 – Nothing is impossible for God. We can believe the miracles of Christmas, the miracle of redemption, the miracles of sanctification. This requires child-like faith that allows us to continue seeing the world not as it is, but as it should be – the Kingdom of God. The holly leaves have transformed the chains (our sins) into something new and living. The good news of Christ’s redemptive, transformative power is ours to live and proclaim. Each person was encouraged to listen during the service for the Good News they would proclaim, then write it on an angel cut out. Rather than keeping them in the sanctuary, they took the angels home to remind them to be messengers, bearers of good news.
Since we are a small congregation without a ton of various in attendance most Sundays, it seemed wise to make Christmas Eve a stand-alone. Otherwise, I’d have to adjust or back up to make sense of the whole for visitors coming in on the very end of the series.