Mr Scrooge, Christmas Debt & God’s Wonderful Generosity

Generosity is a word with an interesting origin. In the 1580s, it meant ’of noble birth’, from the French généreux and from the Latin generosus from genus ’race, stock’; hence to generate: ’give birth, beget’, referring to procreation and familial and tribal groups. So it originally referred to genes and generations; wealthy people of noble stock had good breeding. These wealthy folk were expected to give some of their wealth away; it therefore became an aristocratic characteristic. Any lesser mortal giving away wealth shared their noble qualities and was described as performing a noble or generous act. Nowadays, it has lost its aristocratic connotations and refers to any munificence or great giving for which nothing or little is sought in return.

The Bible commends generosity: 

2 Corinthians 9:6–8:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

An example of a generous man is Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American businessman in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At one point, Carnegie was the richest man in the world, and he gave away more $350 million dollars - half a billion in today’s money - in his lifetime alone. Indeed, he paid for the libraries in Skipton and Accrington.

Carnegie famously wrote that “the man who dies rich dies disgraced”. He further elaborated his theory of generosity, known as the ‘Carnegie Dictum’. It called for people to spend the first third of one’s life getting all the education one can, to then spend the next third making all the money one can, and finally to spend the last third giving it all away for worthwhile causes. It all sounds very neat and I suppose it worked well enough for him. Yet his philanthropy cost him very little. See what Jesus says about the easy generosity of the rich:

Luke 21:1-4: 

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, 2 and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. 3 So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; 4 for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

In contrast, many people in Britain get themselves into debt, especially in the run-up to Christmas. In November, we collectively spent just under £446,000 every minute of every day on presents alone according to The Independent. The Bank of England calculates that a typical household spends over £500 extra in December. 57 per cent of us will go overboard – racking up an average overspend of £152.70. In other words, that’s £150 quid that cannot be afforded. Worryingly, this is an average, and around half of that number will exceed it. In fact, 10 per cent of UK households will put the entire cost of Christmas on a credit card, says GoCompare.

Here’s another contrast. This fellow is one of my favourite Christmas characters, and features in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol of 1843. 

Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, 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, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, "My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?" No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him; and, when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, "No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!"

Elsewhere, Scrooge says: “If I could work my will, 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!”

To the Ghost of Jacob Marley, he retorts: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” In this regard, Scrooge has more sense about him than many folk around today. 

 

There therefore seems to be three contrasting positions:

A meanness epitomised by Mr Scrooge;

A largesse that personally costs nothing, in the shape of Mr Carnegie;

A generosity that cannot be afforded, as seen in many British households.

 

Contrast this with the God of Heaven:

John 3:17: For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved

1 John 4:14: And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

The Father sending the Son into this filthy world, to live among the very rebels and thieves of our race, demonstrated a generosity of cosmic proportions. For several hours upon the cross, the Father abandoned and disfellowshipped His Eternal Love, that human guilt might be atoned for. This cost of this was astronomical, yet the love between the Father and the Son, and their love for sinners, rendered it all worth it, that many sons might be brought to glory.  

 

John 3:16: 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.