Christmas Eve! – and the setting for what is arguably the best-known of Dickens’ works, A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol has this in common with the Bible: everyone thinks they know it and then are surprised by what is actually there, for what they ‘know’ are the adaptations; the many retellings, so that the meaning easily becomes distorted.
The story is, as we all know, of the miser, Scrooge; visited by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, whose mission is to prevent Scrooge suffering the fate that torments Marley, and to this end Scrooge is visited by three spirits – of Christmas Past, present and Future. The first shows him a past which contains very cold, hard times, but also joy and a possibility of hope and love which he extinguished: softened by what he has seen, he is then taken by the Ghost of Christmas Present to see the joy that is about – and to see that there are still two people, his nephew and clerk, who are willing to say a kind word about him. Then the final Ghost, of Christmas Yet to Come: a faceless being that shows Scrooge that he is to die alone and unmourned – and this, not an awareness of his own mortality (Victorians were all too aware of their own mortality) along with what he has already seen, creates the change in him. The contrast between the coldness of his death and the warmth that surrounds the death of his clerk’s son, Tiny Tim, shakes him profoundly.
And he changes. Not in the way film versions would have us believe, changing from an introvert into a raging extrovert, dispensing largesse in all directions (re-read the book and check it out!) but quietly learning to trust the world and to reach out to others and let them into his life. He lives, as he declares, “in the past, present and future.”
So – can we do that? A Christmas Carol has within it some very harsh scenes, being written from an anger at how the very poor were treated by the rich – ignored by the rich – and perhaps we need to remember the future as we rejoice at the birth of Jesus. For the future was full of hard scenes, as Jesus challenged the preconceptions of the establishment; as he cared for the outcast and the unloved and unlovely and suffered for it, and died.
May Jesus, who came among us to live our life, die our death and rise so that all may have life in all its fullness touch out lives today by his coming so that we cease to be afraid of what we were and what we may become, but live the present moment in the strength of his Spirit.
As we ‘eat, drink and be merry;’ as we open our presents in the comfort and warmth of our own homes, give us sufficient anger that too many people are hungry and homeless and may God help us be the answer to our own prayers.