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Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol: Have you read it?

Mr. Dickens’ tells  a tale that has  endured 168 years.  It is  an ever fresh analysis about how even the worst of us  can be all be made better with a little supernatural help and our own determination to be and do good.

I first heard it read by Lionel Barrymore on Christmas day, 1956. Settling myself in a comfy chair I put the records on a phonograph just below the 21-inch Philco televison screen. It was late afternoon, and the Christmas tree lights were quite cheery while I listened to a story I didn’t quite grasp.

I grasp it now, forty-three years later, having seen many different productions. And the story never disappoints me; its theme is always a tonic: even the worst of the lot can change in time to do some good for the human race  – whether Scrooge is played by Alastair Sim, Jack Palance, Scrooge McDuck, or, Vanessa Williams.  That was the intention: In his own words, Mr. Dickens
“ . . . endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.” He wanted it to “. . . haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

Wherever it is set, and whenever the story unfolds, the theme is the same: a supernatural intervention in an ornery old person’s life: Ebenezer Scrooge’s.  He – or she, depending on the production – is headed for eternal torment, condemned to wander the earth unable to do the good he or she once might have done – never resting, weighed down by the chains their sins forged in life. A departed associate has been  dispatched to warn the greedy man of affairs; three spirits arrive successively – all knowing a great deal about  Scrooge’s life – former and current. Memories long suppressed confront the Scrooge, forcing him  to judge what he has become. And, then, Scrooge is shown his end – the grave –  unless – he repents; he does. The supernatural intruders succeeded! Scrooge does a one-eighty, and becomes a keeper of Christmas year-round,  helping and serving mankind, who should have been his business his whole life. Death for now is thwarted.

Now, Mr. Dickens doesn’t say exactly who sends the spirits, though he is plain on the purpose of their mission: Scrooge’s welfare, his reclamation on Christmas Eve – the day the church celebrates the birth of Jesus the Christ. Yet, Mr. Dickens did not link  Christ Jesus  to the Scrooge’s transformation. (1 Timothy 1:15) Baptized in the  Anglican church, Mr. Dickens was averse to evangelicalism –  and, alas, apparently aligned himself with Unitarianism for the remainder of his life. (Dickens, Christianity and the Life of our Lord: Humble Veneration, Profound Conviction, By Gary Colledge,  link)

Is Scrooge’s change therefore a humbug? For the Cratchits, his nephew Fred, and 19th century London, surely not! Mr. Dickens stated Scrooge put his life and money where his mouth was:
     “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world . . .  He had no further intercourse with Spirits, . . . and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge . . .”

And England in the mid-19th century needed many charitable hearts and hands – just we do in 21st century America today. (Mark 14:7)

So what am I confessing this Christmas with deeds? (James 2:26)

Maybe that is why A Christmas Carol remains a beloved goad – one I understand more deeply each year as memories of Christmases past haunt me. I confess with my mouth Jesus is Lord; He reclaimed my sin-laden soul.

  •     You intervened in my life though I had not asked – (Ephesians 1:4)
  •     You invited me to a splendid feast, one that destroys the grave! (Isaiah 25:6-8)
  •     And you gave me lavish robes – to cover my wretched rags. (Zachariah 3:4)
  •     In You, I have a hope and a future – far brighter than the Christmas lights in big -D and more real. (Jeremiah 29:11)

What have I done with so great a salvation?

Oh! This season may no one miss the real supernatural power in Christmas because of my deeds. May I be “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a [woman], as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. . .”
God help me to be a woman who walks straight, acts right, and tells the truth.
May I never hurt my friend, or  blame my neighbor.
May I despise the despicable.
May I keep my word even when it costs me, and may I make an honest living, never taking a bribe. (Psalms 15 from THE MESSAGE)

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