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A Christmas Carol

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

I still remember the shock I first experienced when Ebenezer Scrooge (in the guise of Mr. Magoo) saw his name on the tombstone. In some strange way, this odd slightly scary image is one of my earliest impressions of Christmas. And I think of it fondly.

Mr. Magoo introduced me to the wonder of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and for that I was always be grateful. I can barely imagine Christmas without the wonder of this marvelous story.

Over the years, I’ve watched almost every version of “A Christmas Carol.” And yet, every year I find another one I haven’t seen. This year I had the pleasure of discovering a haunting 1935 version with Seymour Hicks. Drawing elements from German expressionism, this version captures the terrible wonder of this story.

I believe the master storyteller Charles Dickens in all his flaws was graced by God to bless the world with his rich legacy of penetrating stories. (Here is a little essay I wrote on Charles Dickens in the early 90s.)

Dickens saw the suffering of the world first-hand. As a child, his family went to the poor, but Dickens was left behind to fend for himself. For several months, he drifted through a nightmare of existence.

His nightmares became the stories I’ve loved so deeply. Dickens doesn’t hesitate to portray the gritty ugliness of our world and the people in our world. And yet, his loves those people. He loves Scrooge. So he can’t leave him in his dis-grace.

A few friendly ghosts will rescue the old man in his misery. During of night of visions, Scrooge encounters the ugliness of his soul, his need for redemption, and the heart of Christmas joy. While “A Christmas Carol” does not explicitly detail the story of Christ, the image is never far from the surface. Listen to Dickens own words as he talks about his image of Christmas:

What images do I associate with the Christmas music as I see them set forth on the Christmas tree? Known before all others, keeping far apart from all other, they gather round my bed. An angel, speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travelers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in a spacious temple, talking with grave men; a solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof of a chamber where he sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed, with ropes; the same, in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship again; again, on a sea-shore, teaching a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee, and other children round; again, restoring sight to the sick, strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again, dying upon a Cross, watched by armed soldiers, a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake, and only one voice hear, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Dickens saw the “writing on the tree” so to speak. He saw what Christmas envisioned. The birth, life and death of the Savior for all humanity. The only hope in a world darkened by human violence and human oppression.

Alongside Dickens, we learn to love Scrooge as we witness a man wounded and damaged in this world of sin. Scrooge, the grumpy bah-humbug truly becomes the “founder of the feast” that Bob Cratchitt has called him. In his redemption, Scrooge comes to exemplify the very spirit of Christmas present. Joy and generosity overflow from the man who once was a pit of stinginess.

In the 1970 musical version starring Albert Finney, Scrooge is so deeply transformed that he tears up his debt book (bringing up images of Zacchaeus after he encounters Jesus). Then Scrooge dons a Santa outfit and proceeds to pour out gifts and laughter and joy upon everyone in his presence. Wherever Scrooge goes, he brings the celebration with him.

That spirit of abundance, of generosity, of overwhelming joy inspires me to bring the joy, and not to wait for someone or something else to make me happy. I’ve tasted the secret of joy in the goodness of God’s grace, and I want to spread it to all people I meet. Just as Cratchitt loved the unlovable Scrooge, I want to love and call for the best from the people around me.

When Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol,” the London Times hadn’t mentioned Christmas for over 30 years. But Dickens saw the possibility of what could be, and he wrote about it. Chesterton rightly calls Dickens the “founder of the feast” because he fell in love with the despairing people around him and wrote a vision of their transformation.

Sounds a bit like the wonder of a God who loved and loves his enemies. And his relentless love transforms our dark and hateful souls into something wondrous. Oh Lord, grant me eyes to see your love for the people around me. Just as my haunting memory of the Mr. Magoo Scrooge facing a tombstone, I know we all face a tombstone.

We have a brief sojourn before ascending. Let us love deeply and widely and unreservedly. Let us pray and hope and expect the grace of God to penetrate all the Scrooges in our world.

Advent – Rejoice!

December 23, 2008 Leave a comment

The feast is upon us. For those who’ve kept the advent fast and for those who forgot. For those who’ve been watching and for those who fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel appears announcing, “Good news!” And the dark night becomes a festival of light. Thousand and thousands of voices join in the song,
“Glory to God in the highest,
Peace on earth
Goodwill to man!”

What? You don’t feel like singing? You don’t have the Christmas spirit. Your back hurts. You’re in a bad mood.

I would suggest that for all these reasons, you must sing. Sing out! Pierce the darkness of dis-courage-ment with the light of courage to praise. Even now God’s redemption draws near to you. Today is the day of salvation.

It’s a day of good news, great tidings, delicious, delightful, happily-ever-after news. God has declared “Peace!”

In spite of our warring hearts, in spite of our false loves, in spite of our constant failings, He declares, “Peace and Joy!” In the miracle birth of baby Jesus, we behold the Heavenly King who comes to make all things new—even your sad story.

The story that you thought was a story of failure has become a grand adventure. A love story. A song and dance. A fairy tale that out fairy tales even Snow White and Cinderella combined. For the Prince of Peace wakes your dead soul with a holy kiss and invites you to the Wedding Feast.

Even now He is present and the angels are singing all around you. In fact, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of voices have joined in the song. The saints of the ages have joined in the glorious refrain,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.”

He has not forgotten you. He did not abandon you. Even now He calls you by name. Even now He looks upon you as His beloved.

For the babe Jesus came as King, as Lover, as Healer, and Lord and Redeemer. He did not simply come to restore the people of Israel, He came to restore all of us into His life of love.

Let us join the angel song.

This rejoicing. This singing. This praising. This is why we have our tongues. For once let us use them for their real purpose, to sing hilariously to the good God of Heaven who enters our world of sin and death and pain and suffering, so that we might enter into His world of love and life and joy and peace.

So get up and let us all light up the darkness with the joy of singing, dancing, laughter and love.

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