Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Confession at Christmas

December 31, 2012 2 comments


The coffee shop streams with people coming and going this cool December morning on the last day of 2012. The lady to my left works a crossword puzzle. The couple to my right discusses the political anger that seems to abound in our culture. One girl reads her Bible. One couple quietly communicates with hand gestures back and forth, back and forth.  A lady in the corner sits in front of her computer, looking at her iPhone and listening to something (music or otherwise) on her bright red headphones. I love the color red.

Barristas scurry from sink to coffee machine to cash register. All the while swapping stories, sharing smiles and greeting incoming customers. The room buzzes with a white noise that helps quiet me as I read and pray.

The opening sentence in the Daily Office for today reads, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

I sit back and reread these words.

“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)


“Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10, 11)

I keep hearing the words from Pope Benedict XVI in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” He points out that the angel addresses Mary with the Greek word “chaire instead of the Hebrew word “shalom.” This Greek word means “Rejoice.” Benedict writes,

“Joy appears in these texts as the particular gift of the Holy Spirit, the true gift of the Redeemer. So a chord is sounded with the angel’s salutation which then resounds throughout the life of the Church. Its content is also present in the fundamental word that serves to designate the entire Christian message: Gospel— good news.”[1]

I am struck by the immediacy of the address. The angel address Mary and the shepherds with this immediate command. “Rejoice.” Today, this very moment, heaven has broken into earth. Christ is come. The world is changed. Rejoice! In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Today is the day of salvation!” Today.

This word jolts me awake. For the Good News has come to me here, this moment at Starbucks, in the midst of many movements, I am stilled by the Word that raises my soul to life. “Rejoice!” Even as I rejoice, I hear the call to confession.

“Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.”

Here is my feeble confession to the Good News that is too good to be true but still is true:

Lord I confess I am dead to the life-shattering news of Emmanuel.

I confess I my ears have been dulled by the distracting roar of my heart’s strivings for vain pursuits and I have failed to hear the Good News.

I confess that I’ve been blinded by lesser lights and I have failed to behold your Glorious Light and my desperate darkness.

I confess that I’ve reduced the coming of our Lord to a distant event in the ancient past or uncertain future, and I have failed to realize that Christ is come today and today is the day of salvation.

I confess that the Good News fails to echo in my soul with the fire of joy, so my joy dissipates in lesser loves and momentary delights.

Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

Fire my soul, my mind, my heart, my body with the news that is ever New and the Word that is ever Present. In your grace, let me hear and respond to this Word Today, to the birth of Jesus, the One who lived, died and rose again. To the Lord Jesus Christ who ever intercedes for me and all creation before the Father in heaven. To the Savior Who is present by His Spirit and is Filling all things to the Fullness of Your Glory.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI (2012-11-21). Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (Kindle Locations 369-372). Image. Kindle Edition.

Image thanks to Avondale Pattillo UMC via Creative Commons.

Categories: Christmas

The Absurdity of the Christmas Feast

December 28, 2011 2 comments

Photo by Daniel Stillman (used by Creative Commons Permission)

God rest you merry! Gentlemen (and Gentlewomen). We’ve been invited to a feast. Twelve days of rejoicing alongside Mary and Joseph, of beholding with the shepherds, of singing with the Holy Innocents and all the saints, of kneeling with the wise men before the babe who holds the world in His hands.

One moment we were longing and waiting and crying out in the darkness of Advent, and the next moment, the Son of God appears just down the street, just round the corner, in a nearby field. One moment we were in our homes, our jobs, our busy lives, and the next moment we heard an angel say, “Rise up shepherd and follow.” We followed into the small Palestinian village of Bethlehem to behold the “Peace on Earth Good Will to Men.”

Awestruck, we are called to worship and eat, laugh and sing, dance and make merry. Heaven and earth are joined in cosmic celebration of Emmanuel, God with Us, the Hope of Israel.

But all this rejoicing is simply too much for most of us. So we open few presents, sing a few songs and pack up the tree and decorations for next year.

In some ways, the Advent fast is easier to understand than the Christmas feast. During Advent we face the darkness of our world and our soul, but during the Christmas feast we behold the Light of the World in a manger. Crouching in the dark is easier than dancing in the light. We’re simply too weak for sustained happiness.

As Chesterton reminds us, “Happiness is a mystery–generally a momentary mystery–which seldom stops long enough to submit itself to artistic observation, and which, even when it is habitual, has something about it which renders artistic description almost impossible. There are twenty tiny minor poets who can describe fairly impressively an eternity of agony; there are very few even of the eternal poets who can describe ten minutes of satisfaction.”[1]

Happiness is a momentary mystery.

If that’s true, how can we sustain happiness for twelve days of feasting let alone throughout the joyous season of Epiphany? We are simply too weak and too old for such a task. Once again, I turn to the master. Chesterton writes, “we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”[2] Sin weakens our capacity for the deep joy of our Heavenly Father.

True feasting is far harder than true fasting. True feasting enlarges, opening up the depths of wonder within and around us. Sadly, we live in a world that confuses sensuous gluttony for feasting. Our drunken stupor actually deadens the senses and reduces our capacity to know happiness or deep joy.

One of the weaknesses in some medieval expressions of the Christmas feast was this gluttonous indulgence that led to violence, sexual immorality and damaged souls. Sickened by the deadly extravagances, some U.S. colonies simply outlawed Christmas altogether.

But you can’t keep a dead man down. Christmas returns in the industrialized world of America and England in a new form, stripped of the twelve days of feasting. This new holiday focused on a day of celebration for family and friends.

Christmas became and remains sort of a national holiday for the secular religion of our culture. This isn’t a recent change. It actually is part of the reformulation of the modern Christmas that happened in the nineteenth century. Jack Neely recently posted an interesting quote that diminished any spiritual connection with Christmas from the turn of last century,

“Don’t think that Christmas is not your holiday because your religious beliefs don’t run that way,” ran the cheerful squib in the Republican daily, the Knoxville Journal, in December, 1911. “It’s your holiday, if you want it, and its religious significance is its smallest element.” Reprinted from another paper, it ran without comment.[3]

We inherited a holiday that had lost connection with its roots in fasting and feasting. Most of us grew up by celebrating Christmas all through December and culminating in the big Christmas Day that came too fast and was over too soon. For many people, Christmas could not live up to the promise of restored childhood innocence.

We attempt to overcome this disappointment, this emptiness by making movie after movie about keeping the spirit of Christmas alive, or by falling into the trap of gluttony and gorging on more and more and more stuff. It Santa doesn’t bring me what I want, I’ll charge it and buy it myself! In the process, we actually deaden our ability to wonder.

Even in indulgences, the grace of God cannot be thwarted. By celebrating Christmas, singing carols, decorating trees, and telling stories, we edge ever closer to a thin place. We enter into the danger of encountering something much deeper than a secularized festival. We tread on the holy ground of the Christmas Feast. Chesterton writes, “The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.”[4]

One Christmas in the later 80s, I asked, “Why?” Why do we have a tree? I decided no tree. No pagan festival in our home. Kelly prayed for a tree. Someone showed on our porch with a tree. I thought, “Well if the Lord wants to answer her prayer, I’m not going to stand in the way.” We made homemade decorations.

I kept asking why. Why do we celebrate Christmas? Why do we sing about 12 days of Christmas? As I continued to ask questions, I moved closer to the mystery of happiness and the absurdity of the Christmas Feast. How the could angels sing when wars did not cease? How could this story seem sweet when innocent babes died under Herod’s cruel hand?

The paradox of the Christmas Feast is that it does not deny the presence of pain and sin and struggle in the world. The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents is actually part of the feast. And yet, against the backdrop of this pain, the Christmas Feast taps an ancient mystery far more ancient than the utter sinfulness of sin. Reaching all the way back to the earliest moments of Creation, the Christmas Feast celebrates the Lord who beholds His creation and sees that “It is good!”

It Is Good.

At the heart of all things, we hear the ringing observation of God Himself, “It is good.” The Hebrew word for good is “towb.” This richly textured word means far more than good. Inherent in the word is beauty, kindness, happiness, and more. Our Lord creates a world that is beautiful, full of joy, pleasing to the senses, and truly kind. His creation is not only good but Very Good.

The Christmas Feast celebrates this good and wondrous world our God created by enjoying it: eating, drinking, laughing, playing, embracing, giving, and worshipping. Our feasting is extravagant but not the empty gluttony that seeks to feed to sin sick soul. It is doxological. Worshipful. Grateful. It holds joy and sorrow together in a dance of sacred awe.

By juxtaposing the dark yearning of Advent with the bright gaiety of Christmas, the church invites us to worship God in the midst of a world that has been scarred by sin and evil. We do not deny the anguish, but we bring it into perspective by focusing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

As we behold Christ, we behold the Word Made Flesh. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”[5] On Christmas, we celebrate “God with Us” in the midst of His own good and beautiful creation. All things created in and through Him. All things restored in and through Him. Though His world is scarred by sin and evil, He does not abandon it, but redeems it. He defeats evil, and restores it.

We tune our hearts and minds and bodies to behold the babe, the Lord, the Savior, the King of Kings. We choose to rejoice, to laugh, to sing serious and silly songs, and to sing praises to the One who created this world of wonder. Our praise is prophetic for it points to the ultimate defeat of all evil and the ultimate enthroning of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Even as we choose to delight in the Christmas Feast, we mock the power of death, knowing that death itself will die and every oppressing ruler will fall and fully submit to the good God who created this good and wonderful world.

It is absurd to rejoice when we are weak and frail and so fully aware of our own sinfulness. And yet we do. We turn from the darkness; we look to the light. In the turning, we open time and space for surprise. Our Lord so often surprises us with a happiness that we cannot grasp, cannot evoke and cannot sustain. And yet, we can delight in it. We can celebrate His faithfulness to immerse us in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Let us not abandon the Christmas Feast too soon.

God rest you merry dear friends!

[1] Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2009-12-15). Works of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. (350+ Works) Includes The Innocence of Father Brown, The Man Who Was Thursday, Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Napoleon of … What’s Wrong with the World & more (mobi) (Kindle Locations 5712-5714). MobileReference. Kindle Edition.

[2] Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2009-12-15). Works of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. (350+ Works) Includes The Innocence of Father Brown, The Man Who Was Thursday, Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Napoleon of … What’s Wrong with the World & more (mobi) (Kindle Location 51605). MobileReference. Kindle Edition.

[3] Neely, Jack. “Christmas in the City, 1911.” Metro Pulse, December 21, 2011.

[4] Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (1990). The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Volume 33, page 478. Ignatius Press, 1990.

[5] John 1:3. English Standard Version (ESV), The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

Categories: Christmas

The Appearing of Christmas

December 24, 2011 1 comment

Adoration of the Magi (Leonaert Bramer)


On Christmas Eve, time is full and taut like a balloon about to burst. At any moment, the Light of Christmas will break forth. At any moment, the angels will sing. At any moment, the ordinary day will be overtaken by “O Holy Night.” The Lord’s appearing is so very near, and so very hidden.

A long wait precedes this sudden appearing of Word Made Flesh.

Those who’ve kept the vigil have been waiting all through Advent. But is not Advent just a way of focusing the deep anticipation we’ve felt throughout our lives? Christmas but the rehearsal of His sudden appearing in the middle of the night. He is so very near, and so very hidden until the sudden moment of appearing.

This vigil for the coming of the Lord burns in the hearts of God’s people from age to age. It may be that we are called to wait and watch on behalf of all creation. Daniel knew this calling, this yearning. Three times a day he faced Jerusalem; he watched and waited, longing for the call of God that would bring His people home.

The call came in the command of King Cyrus. The exiles began a new story of exodus and restoration. Hope pulsed in their hearts. They were like people who dreamed. Their mouths filled with laughter. The Lord turned the captivity of Zion. Old things passed away. All things became new.

But all things didn’t become new instantly. The Promised Land seemed old and worn out. The promises weak and feeble. The milk and honey didn’t flow. The land had become harsh. Alien people and alien gods surrounded them. Israel felt crippled by the enemies around them and within them. Even their own memories betrayed them.

They remembered Solomon’s Temple when the glory was too thick to see. That temple would not, could not be rebuilt. They were too poor, too short of resources. This second temple would be shameful in comparison. The old things that passed away seemed far more glorious than the meager new things.

They lost hope, lost heart and shrank into the shadow of stronger foes. They quit watching and waiting. The unbuilt Temple abandoned. The darkness of Palestine overcame the light of faith.

Zechariah appeared as a voice in this wilderness saying “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He saw a man dwelling among myrtle trees who was the Angel of the Lord. He revealed that the glory of the Lord was in their midst, and they didn’t even know it. He was so very near and so very hidden. They were called to watch and wait, trusting the faithfulness of the Lord. By His grace, they rebuilt the Temple, they rebuilt the city, and they looked for the coming of Messiah.

After 400 years, Jerusalem still watched and waited. When would Messiah come? When would evildoers be overthrown? When would light overcome the darkness? The dark shadow of Rome covered the land.

Into this dark night, a light shined. A babe was born who was Christ the Promised King. In the birth of Jesus, the shepherds beheld the “man among the myrtles” born as a babe. Emmanuel, God with us, was revealed. He came to live in the midst of His people and in the midst of their darkness. The angels sang and the sky lit up in doxology.

But a glorious night passes into a dark day of bloodshed as Herod sought to kill all the male babies. After the grand announcement of “Peace on Earth,” this babe of peace was whisked away and hidden in the deserts of Egypt. The Light came into this world and promptly hid from the darkness.

As we wait and watch, we may wonder if the darkness has swallowed the light and overcome it. Like the exiles returning home, our Christmas joy often fades into promises that seem weak and feeble.

Staring into the bleak landscape of the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew this discouragement firsthand. His wife burned to death in an accidental fire. His son entered the war against his wishes and was severely wounded. His nation, the shining city on a hill, now sunk into dark valley of bloodshed. He cried out,

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.’

But he was not forsaken in the dark. He too would come to know that there is a “man among the myrtle trees.” Longfellow would behold the One is who so very near and so very hidden. He continued writing,

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow, like us, had to discover that darkness could not swallow the Light of Glory. Jesus was born to enter that darkness and overcome it. In His Life and Death, He defeated the power of the sin and darkness and arose in the light of Perfect Love.

He ascended to the Father. Yet even now Jesus, “the man among the myrtles,” dwells among us by His Spirit. He dwells with and in us as we traverse dark lands. We may lose hope and even lose faith. But He has already overcome this momentary darkness. We are bound to Him by His Spirit, so even as we stumble in the valleys of death and affliction, we are not forsaken. Even as we waste away, we are being renewed.

So we watch and wait for His appearing.

We yearn for Christmas Light in a dark and weary world. We know His light shines ever brighter in and upon us though sometimes it is veiled from our eyes. He is so very near and so very hidden. Paul reminds us, we must not lose heart even when it feels like the darkness is growing stronger and we are growing weaker. He is glorifying, perfecting, completing the work begun in us and in His creation. We are growing brighter and brighter in the Light of our Lord.

This transformation, this waiting and watching for the Light is truly rehearsed in our Christmas celebration. In the fullness of time, the Holy Night of Christmas bursts forth the from expectancy of Advent. The sudden surprise of Christmas appears. The Son is fully unveiled in Glory. We behold Him even as we shine in the Light of His Glory.

So let us keep the vigil in and out of season.

Merry Christmas as we celebrate the sudden surprise of His coming and look forward to the sudden surprise of His coming.

Categories: Christmas

Christmas Presents

December 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I heard a man say “Merry Christmas” and then apologize switching to “Happy New Year” instead. But he was really right the first time. We’ve entered Christmas “time,” and today is only the sixth day of a 12-day feast. During some seasons, Kelly and I have chosen to exchange a gift for each of the 12 days, helping remind us of the extended season of feasting.

Since I love getting presents this makes for a good tradition. While I realize that it is better to give than receive, I find it delightful to get…lots of presents. Presents and Christmas just go together. Some of my fondest memories from childhood include sitting under the Christmas tree and stacking up all the gifts that were labeled, “To Doug.”

During my early childhood, we’ve lived up in New Jersey. Every year we’d receive several large boxes from Tennessee, and each box was filled with presents from all our relatives.

What a delight I had to tear into the boxes, unpack the gifts and stack them under the tree. During the days leading up to Christmas, I’d sit by the tree and gather the “Doug” gifts, shaking, weighing and wondering upon the contents of each pretty package.

Sometimes I think I enjoyed the presents more before I opened them. The fancy papers, the colored bows, the odd shapes, and the varying weights all were a feast for my young imagination. Augustine’s idea that true happiness is found in anticipation of the good was being proved even in my childlike world of wonder.

In a way, this may be why Christmas sometimes seems like a letdown for some children and adults. The anticipation of the event is far more delightful than the actual experience. We discover like Augustine that the good we longed for is still ahead of us and not found in the mere gifts we exchanged.

As he reflected upon our longing for the “good,” Augustine came to believe that this good must be outside of us or we wouldn’t long for it. Then he assumed it must be something greater than what our outer world could supply. Because all our earthly goods never live up to the longing we have.

As he wrestled with this unfulfilled longing, Augustine came to see this greater good as something or someone that would fulfill the “desire” within us that drives us to long. And eventually Augustine came to realize that this “good” must be God, and that true happiness was found on earth in the anticipation of God who is beyond us.

For him, true earthly happiness was found in the longing for the “beautiful vision” of God. We merely touch hints of this vision in present life and will only enjoy the complete vision in the life to come. So even in the delight of a Christmas present, Augustine might see hints of God’s wondrous love.

I like that because my delight with Christmas presents might be seen as an act of spiritual devotion. Then again, it might be my unbridled selfish desires. And oddly enough, I suppose it is really a mixture of both. And God in his grace is working and transforming me in spite of my selfish motives.

But for now, let me go back to the presents! I have a question for you. What is the most memorable present you have ever received? I asked myself this several days ago, and oddly enough, it’s not an easy question to answer. All the presents blur together in my mind. Sweaters and pants and shirts and toys and boxes and bows all jumble together in one confusing mix.

So I’m not sure I can answer the question. After a few days of consideration, I have begun to remember the Bozo riding in the Bozo car that still sits in my house to this day. Then I remembered a Fisher Price circus set and a golf ball yo-yo and a train. Oops now the memories are flooding my mind: multiple race tracks, G.I. Joe dolls, magic tricks, a chemistry set, and a Tootsie Roll machine. Now I can’t stop. On and on I could go for pages listing trinkets and toys that delighted me for seasons of my childhood.

I failed to mention that the first gift which came to mind was a broken toy: a little car with broken wheels. I hated this gift but remember it more than any other gift. My sister and I were attending a youth choir Christmas party. We exchanged gifts using numbers we drew from a hat.

When I opened my little package, I was shocked to find a used and broken toy. Sad to say, I burst into tears. “Why me Lord?” “Why in heaven would someone have given me a broken toy?” As usual, my sister came to the rescue. She quickly pooled some money with another girl, and they ran down to the bookstore to buy me a puzzle.

I appreciated her kindness but somehow always felt a tinge of guilt playing with that puzzle. Why was I so sensitive and selfish over such a small thing? The memory stills haunts me on occasion.

I still wonder, “What is the story on that broken car?” Who thought bringing a broken car as a gift was a good idea? Were they too poor to buy something? If so, maybe this little broken car was actually a treasured gift, and they were giving me something of great value.” I’ll never know the story before it came to me, but I can tell you the story after I received it. Discarded. Trashed. But not forgotten.

Every gift is not simply a gift. It is actually a story in motion. It had a story before I got it and in one way or another it becomes part of my story once I receive it. For every gift that someone bought for me over the years, there was a moment or many moments of wondering, “What would Doug want?” Or possibly, “What can I get the best deal on?”

A whole series of thoughts might have occupied someone’s mind: “What size does he wear?” “What color does he like?” “Maybe I’ll just get him a goofy toy and call it a day.” For every gift someone bought for me, a thought or series of thoughts passed through their mind about me.

Now I realize something rather odd about the gift. It is actually an extension or symbol of the relationship I enjoy with that person. They took a few minutes to think about me and to find a gift for me because I am in relationship with them (even if that relationship consists in simply feeling some obligation to buy something).

Now this might seem odd, but I come to realize that gifts are but symbols for persons in my life. The wonder of gifts might not only point to some deep longing for the God, they might also point to the wonder of human relationships.

Looking around me at all the people in my life, I realize that I am surrounded by all shapes and sizes of gifts. Some talkative. Some quiet. Some big. Some tiny. Some friendly. Some a bit grumpy. And yet, in the mystery of God’s grace all these people are gifts of love and relationship God has granted me in this life: hints of His divine and all-surpassing love.

I can admire the packages. Or I can open up the gifts. How? I listen, enjoy, appreciate the wonder of the people around me. I can realize that each of these people have a story that extends far beyond me. But in some mysterious way I am part of their story and they are part of my story.

Every person in my life will change me and I will change them. I can celebrate them and thank God for them, or I can act like I got a bunch of broken toys. And ask, “Why me?”

I hope I’ve learned that even broken toys have mystery and wonder and stories that may unfold surprising hints of God’s goodness and grace.

As I celebrate the 12 days of Christmas this year, I am opening up gifts. Not physical boxes, but the amazing wonder of people in my life. From family and friends to the mystery of the stranger in the story, I am surrounded by gifts of wonder and glory. May I have eyes to see this wonder and sense the stirrings of a love from deep heaven that binds us together in grace.

Doug Floyd

“From a human perspective, when you compare [God] to the other gods of the other religions in the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; he comes in the most common of ways, when by his Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that he comes at all—he’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that he wants to come down. And he has proven his love by the fact that he did come down and touch our ground.”
James R. Van Tholen, Where All Hope Lies (cited from

Holiday or Hollow Day?

December 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Check out Jeremy’s thoughtful perspective on the celebrating stories that are not anchored in “deep myth.”

Categories: Christmas Tags: , ,

Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Beautiful destruction blankets the old world
in white death.
All the world is buried beneath
the terrible whiteness of God’s love.
Laughter, tears and non-stop chatter cease
in the bleak mid-winter night.
One cry breaks the chilling
night of bone cold death.
Jesus tumbles down in dead of winter,
coloring this white world with heaven’s light.
Love’s fire melts sin’s icy sting,
Raising a new world into vibrant life.

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.

The Christmas Spirit

December 21, 2006 1 comment

I posted some more advent stuff over at Floydville this week. Here’s an excerpt from the latest:

Each year, I hear at least one person say, “Are you in the Christmas spirit?” Or another might say, “I just don’t feel like Christmas this year.” Year after year the refrain rolls on. I’m not always sure what the “Christmas spirit” is or feels like. But I think it has something to do with the anticipation and wonder experienced by many children.

Of course, most children live in a state of wonder from moment to moment. They might spend hours playing with their Christmas toys or they might spend hours playing with the boxes that held the Christmas toys.

Unfortunately most adults live in a world divorced from wonder, so naturally the Christmas spirit might seem elusive. Just as the anticipation of the tooth fairy, the hopes of finding a leprechaun, or the delight of a refrigerator box might also seem elusive.

Read the rest

Santa Spreads Cheer in Jewish Neighborhood

December 20, 2006 1 comment


NY Times tells the tale today of a Santa celebrating the season with Jewish families in Hollywood. Apparantly, Marie Loomis-Shrier, a Jewish lady, loves Christmas displays and fills her yard with lights, candy canes, snow, and Santa. Sitting on her porch, Santa exclaims, “What is this Hanukkah you speak of?”

Danger Will Robinson….Bad Barbie On the Loose!

December 12, 2006 1 comment

Hide your children, put away the pets! ABC reports that a new Barbie has some strange quirk: push her button the wrong way and she may call your child a slut! Yikes-a-hooty! I think your safer with a sock doll.

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