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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.

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