This December, I (Steven) have been writing on Advent as we lead up to Christmas day. You can jump in right here and not be behind, but if you want to read the first 2 posts, you can check those out here.
Every week we plan a family night with our kids. It usually includes Pizza and a family movie, game, or Starbucks date. A couple weeks ago our family movie was “A Muppets Christmas Carol”. Our kids protested, because they have awful taste in movies, but we persisted because we knew we wanted them to know the Christmas Carol story.
The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a selfish angry old money lender who hates Christmas. Then one Christmas eve is visited by 3 spirits, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Upon seeing how his life has negatively impacted those around him, it motivates him to change his ways.
After watching it, I was inspired to read the Dickens classic, which I had never done. If you haven’t, it is a short read but not necessarily an easy one. Published first in 1834 by Charles Dickens, author born to a middle-class British family which got into financial difficulty because of the spendthrift nature of his father. (1)
I love how Dickens chose to write in “staves” instead of chapters in keeping with a “Carol” theme.
Also, I know most people have some sort of beef with the english language. For example, the weird spelling of weird, or the there, they’re, theirs, or the fact that you park in the driveway and drive in the parkway.
But, Charles Dickens is a wizard with the english language. Some of us see an awkward spelling or anomaly, others can create a vivid picture in your mind by stringing those awkward words together. Look here how he wordsmiths this description of the spirit of Christmas future travelling with Scrooge.
Anyways, in book report like fashion here is my take on some of the important themes of the novel, and how they can be contextualized into a moment of introspection for the advent season.
There was no such thing as a “Scrooge” before this book. Also, no one said “Bah Humbug”. Now, those are regulars in our language and is often used in jest towards someone who “Doesn’t like Christmas” or doesn’t want their Christmas tree or decorations up too early. Maybe someone who is sick of Mariah Carey’s Christmas album (heresy!).
Ebenezer Scrooge was not that.
Ebenezer was described by Dickens like this: a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”
Plus, he is caught saying this (one of my favourite lines from the book).
“every idiot who goes about with a ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”– Ebenzer Scrooge
Ebenezer hated Christmas, but not because he hated the holiday, but because it seems like he hated everyday, and seeing the joy of others during the season triggered him.
Elsewhere in the book, Charles Dickens refers to Scrooges old deceased partner Jacob Marley saying the reason for his damnation was because he “had no bowels.” Which was a direct reference to John’s epistle where the bowel is spoken of as the seat of compassion. (Have to go back to the KJV to get the actual language for you).
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?– John 3:17
Thematically, the book is a commentary on philanthropy, justice, compassion, charity, our responsibility to our human counterparts, and the damage an absence of these things will do to ourselves and others.
You and everyone around you are either victims or benefactors of your theology.
– A.J. Swoboda
What does theology have to do with it?
Theology is the study of God. Specifically His nature and religious belief.
Your belief dictates your behaviour, and how you believe will either benefit those around you, or victimize them.
In Scrooge’s case, his belief that his needs and wants were of utmost importance, his desire for money, his lack of compassion caused him to live a life of isolation, anger, and emptiness.
It was said of Scrooge further in the book that his funeral would be a cheap one, because it would be so poorly attended. At another moment in the 4th Stave, Scrooge asked the Spirit to show him any person who has any emotion because of his death, the only emotion the spirit could show him was a family celebrating his death because their debt was forgiven. His nephew, his employees and their families, his hungry neighbourhood children were all victimized by his contempt and anger, but he himself would not be excluded from the damage his belief system would do.
This should be convicting to us, and should cause us to re-evaluate how we believe.
The scripture is clear that all men and women are created in the image of God. All people. As image-bearers of God, all people are intrinsically valuable and worthy of dignity, respect, and honour. That belief should cause us to live a life of compassion and charity. Not just at Christmas, but as a lifestyle, loving and executing justice.
I recently read a friends post that said this:
You’ve never locked eyes with someone that God doesn’t love.
I like the way Dorothy Day said it.
It is of absolute importance that we cultivate a theology that causes us to love the image-bearers of God that we encounter everyday. It is not a suggestion, it is a moral imperative, and it is not predicated on whether or not you have an affinity for the person, agree with them, vote the same, share the same skin colour, partake in the same socio-economic status, religion, or gender.
If we don’t we victimize others, and ourselves. If we do, we benefit others and ourselves.
We see through Scrooges experience with the first 2 spirits that he is evolving from a two dimensional caricature into a real person with real feelings and emotions. The most sobering passage in the novel is his experience with the ghost of Christmas future.
As he travels through different moments and conversations of others regarding himself, he eventually asks the spirit this:
“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be or are they shadows of the things that May be, only?
The story climaxes when the spirit immovably points scrooge to look upon his own grave stone.
“Spirit!” He cried, tight clutching at its robe, “Hear me! I am not the man I was . I will not be the man I must have been…. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, present, and future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
This vision or dream that Scrooge experienced caused at least temporary change. The next day he purchases and delivers a prize turkey to his family and gives Bob Crachit a raise in salary, and then the story ends.
He saw the end, and yet it wasn’t the end. He got to wake up. He got the opportunity to change. He got the opportunity to make things right, and he did. He didn’t wait until things were more convenient, or until he could save up some cash to be more generous. He felt the urgency of change and moved on it.
Story gives us the opportunity to practice without having to experience. This story should compel us to live as though we are face to face with our own tombstone. Don’t just read this and look at the things Scrooge did and should have changed, those are obvious and hyperbolic. Read it and ask God to investigate inside you and expose the things you desire to be different before you arrive in that inevitable place.
Behold, here is your coffee mug, instagram graphic, promise for the day.
You. Will. Die.
Sit with the awkwardness for a minute.
If you died today.
Q: What measurable difference would your life have made?
Q: What will you be known for?
Q: What would you regret not changing?
I pray Scrooge’s anguish over a wasted life not be ours, and that the urgency he sensed to change would be given to us this Christmas season.
His redemption story can be ours too, but not just because we are afraid of dying and not making a difference, but because of the gospel. The gospel isn’t about taking a grumpy old Christmas hater and making him more generous, it isn’t about making bad people better, it isn’t about a modification of behaviour. It is about dead people, becoming alive people. True redemption isn’t just about going from being stingy to being generous. It is about your entire nature going from self-centered to other-centered, and that is only really possible if your old nature is crucified, and a new nature is implanted inside you.
If you are far from Christ now, your name is already on a tombstone, and it is only through regeneration that you can be brought to life. That is why the incarnation is so powerful. Jesus entered into the human experience, lived, died, and rose again in order that we may be able to die to our sinful nature, and rise again with a new nature, new desires, and a new power to live in long lasting permanent change.
There is more to be said on this subject, as with any. However, I am sure you are ready to keep scrolling elsewhere.
Much love, Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone.