A Reflection on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Years ago, I created a personal Christmas tradition all my own, just for me. It is to reread Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. I loved this story as a child. There is magic in the old words, a special old-world charm as it describes a Victorian Christmas. The characters are familiar either from the book itself or the numerous re-tellings in print and on film. There are also old truths that apply to us still today.
Spoiler Alert: I will reveal the ending. If you don’t know this story from the 1800s by know, go get a copy of the book and educate yourself!
Stave One: Marley’s Ghost
“Marley was dead…” begins the classic tale. This piece of information is so important for the story that is repeated numerous times on the first page, where the author even explains his own device- without knowing that Marley is dead, no good could come from the story at all!
Ebenezer Scrooge knew Marley was dead. He signed the death certificate himself! So then later that night when Marley’s ghost appears to the miserly, cold old man, there is no mistaking that something worthy of note is about to happen!
Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost, who wanders the Earth entangled in heavy chains and money boxes created from a lifetime spent consumed by greed and selfishness. Marley warns Scrooge that he has a chance to avoid the same and worse fate and will be visited by three spirits.
Scrooge, frightened by a ghostly visit tries to compliment Marley’s ghost by calling him a good man of business. This sets the ghost off, as he cries:
“Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
In our world today, I sometimes wonder if there may not be those in our own time making this cry from the afterlife. For those who brush off the mandate given by God to care for one another (source: the bible) saying, “it’s not any of my business” and moving throughout their lives turning a blind eye to the suffering in this world, it is your business. It is all of our business to make the suffering in this world just a little less.
All the more so for those who claim to follow Jesus, as he established a kingdom here on earth that will reach its fullness someday in the future, but we are called to live as if his kingdom has already fully come, easing the suffering of others, healing the hurting and declaring freedom to those enslaved by sin.
Stave Two: The Ghost of Christmas Past
The first spirit reveals to Scrooge scenes from his past Christmases, revealing to the reader valuable backstory. Scrooge has not always been hard and cold and greedy. He once felt joy, but over time, love of money eroded the goodness in him and created the man he is today.
Stave Three: The Ghost of Christmas Present
The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, shows Scrooge the joys of people preparing for their Christmas celebrations, including numerous places where it may be assumed Christmas joy may not reach. The ghost shows him the home of Bob Cratchit where the family, though poor, is happy, even despite the illness of the youngest child, Tiny Tim. The spirit informs Scrooge that Tiny Tim will die unless circumstances change.
Scrooge notices two children huddled under the Spirit’s robes. On asking about them, the Spirit responds:
“‘They are man’s’ said the Spirit, looking down on them. ‘And they cling to me…This boy is ignorance. This girl is want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is doom, unless the writing be erased, deny it!’”
The Spirit then mocks Scrooge with his own sarcastic words about the welfare of the poor before disappearing.
Ignorance is a curse that we should still beware of today. In a world with access to information undreamt of before, there is still a willful ignorance, especially in regards to the poor of the world. Often, we would rather bury our minds and emotions in the numbing effects of Netflix or video games than use our time and resources to do something to heal even the smallest injury in this very broken world.
Stave Four: The Ghost of Christmas Future
The third spirit, the silent Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, reveals to Scrooge scenes involving the death of a disliked man whose funeral is attended by local businessmen only on condition that lunch is provided. Those previously in the man’s employ gleefully steal his possessions. The only emotion over the man’s death is the feeling of relief as a couple realizes they ill have more time before the collection of their debt comes due. It is revealed to Scrooge that the dead man is himself and he repents and promises to change his ways.
Stave Five: A Changed Man
Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning as if from a dream. He is alive and a changed man. He makes a donation to a charity he had previously rejected, anonymously send a turkey to the Cratchit family, and spends the afternoon celebrating Christmas with family. From then on Scrooge is kind, compassionate and generous with his wealth, embodying the “spirit of Christmas” all the time.
I love a good redemption story. Scrooge was a changed man. It is stories like these that give me hope for the world. Hope that the convicting truth will reach our hearts through the subtle (or not so subtle in some cases) prompting of the Holy Spirit, and not necessarily through the dramatic visitation of four ghosts.
The truth is that something about how we live is not right and that Jesus calls us to redemption in ourselves and a more generous way of living out concern for our fellow humankind, showing his love through our actions, love, and generosity to all. So I will embrace old stories like this one that I loved as a child. After all-