“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down; but a good word makes him glad.”
On this First Sunday of Advent, our gaze turns irrepressibly toward the climactic, glorious moment of Christmas Day and the celebration of the birth of the Christ gift, even as we enter this period of preparing our souls to receive and fully appreciate the great spiritual gifts that God offers us through the ministry of our Lord. I couldn’t help but think of the image presented to us by Charles Dickens in his immortal A Christmas Carol, where old Ebenezer Scrooge was granted the gift of realizing who he is presently by viewing who he was at an earlier stage of life. Scrooge was allowed to see himself as a young, fresh-faced apprentice. He sees an old friend of his youth and cries out in joy, “Dick Wilkins, to be sure! Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick.”
Suddenly, Scrooge hears a booming voice that he has long forgotten. In comes his former boss, a jolly, jovial hulk of a man named Fezziwig. On this Christmas Eve, Fezziwig orders his two young charges to put down their work and prepare to have fun. “Yo ho, my boys!” crieds the formidable Fezziwig. “No more work tonight. Christmas Eve, Dick! Christmas, Ebenezer!”
In an instant the two young men clear the floor of the warehouse as if everything is to be stored forever. In another instant the place is cleaned and festooned for a party. Lamps are lit, fires stoked, the workplace transformed into a dance floor, steaming platters of food brought in. Twenty couples, invited from every part of society, filter in, and partake of a gargantuan feast. All engage in breathless dances. Everyone glows with a spirit of high frivolity. Everyone relishes the conviviality. And one more witness glows even more, vicariously relishing that wondrous night as if he were in their midst – old Ebenezer Scrooge.
“A small matter,” observed the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”
“Small?” questioned Scrooge.
“Why! Is it not?” said the Ghost. “He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money . . . Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge. . . . “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up; what then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
The immortal Fezziwig is the kind of boss we would all like to have, the kind of boss we would all like to be. Most importantly, the immortal Fezziwig is the sort of person that we should all aspire to be. The Proverbist observed, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down; but a good word makes him glad.” How apt that observation is when applied to Fezziwig! By contrast, Scrooge’s former business partner, Jacob Marley, had appeared to Scrooge not long before as a ghostly specter carrying heavy chains forged by years of selfishness. When Scrooge commented that Marley had been a good man of business, Marley replied forcefully in regret, “Humanity was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.” In life Jacob Marley never realized this fundamental truth. But Fezziwig understood it in the marrow of his bones. He realized he had the power to infuse other souls with joy and laughter – and he exercised that power to turn other lives into an experience of delight.
On this First Sunday of Advent two great themes converge. This particular Sunday punctuates a seasonal emphasis on gratitude. This is also the particular Advent Sunday that accentuates God’s spiritual gift of hope.
On this Sunday, gratitude and hope converge. God has instilled both instincts within us. God has instilled within us a capacity of gratitude that we might appreciate and relish the abundant blessings that have come our way. God also gives us the spiritual gift of hope that allows us to look beyond even the darkest of circumstances with the courage of expectation. Gratitude and hope! Fezziwig understood the convergence of these great themes. He knew that his life had been richly blessed by God with a myriad of gifts, so he resolved to live in such a way that he would pour out his blessings upon others to uplift their lives, encourage their spirits and serve as a catalyst of joy. That is the gift of Fezziwig. He gives the gift of sharing his blessings so as to uplift and encourage the lives of those around him. His gratitude takes the form of giving other people hope.
On this First Sunday of Advent it is helpful for us to remember that we, too, have the power to give the gift of Fezziwig. Even as we spend the next several weeks frantically searching for material objects that we can bestow unto others in the hope that such gifts will make them happy, let us ponder the fact that we have been endowed by God with the spiritual capacity to dispel gloom, bridge estrangement, effect reconciliation, and transform hopelessness into hope. The ultimate effect of our encouragement — often expressed in mere words and gestures, “light and insignificant” as Scrooge described them – can register more profoundly in a human soul than objects that cost a material fortune. It is helpful to remember on this First Sunday of Advent that we have been endowed by the Spirit to give the gift of Fezziwig, to transform gratitude for our blessings into actions that engender hope in others. All around us are people whose hearts are filled with anxiety. But a “good word” from us might make them glad.
We gather on this First Sunday of Advent to celebrate the Supper of our Lord. This table reminds us that our God in God’s very nature is a God of charity, mercy, forbearance and generosity. God in God’s very nature is a giving God, a blessing God. When we gather around this table and partake of these elements we are acknowledging the depth of our blessings, we are acknowledging the graciousness of our Lord, an acknowledgement takes the form of gratitude that evinces itself in words and actions that create hope in others. As we partake of this meal we remind ourselves that the spiritual gifts given to us are not to be hoarded, but are to be poured out to dispel gloom, bridge estrangement, dissolve enmity, effect reconciliation and spawn hope. The coming weeks will provide us with opportunities to give the gift of Fezziwig. It is with that very expectation that we gather around the table of our Lord.