It’s ironic that during the season of hope, peace, and love, society has agitated a world-wide frenzy of malice and prejudice.
At this time of year, our generosity typically extends to the poor and needy. We drop coins in the red bucket. We take an angel off the angel tree. We feed the homeless. We bake cookies for our neighbors and buy gifts for our loved ones. We exude the Christmas spirit. We are warmed by the words “God bless us, everyone,” because we really do feel blessed.
I’m reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge’s words to his cordial nephew Fred, “I wish to be left alone!” But a hundred pages later, Charles Dickens has transformed the character Scrooge from “a covetous old sinner” to a person deciding to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” And we believe he will do it. Although Charles’ Dickens timeless classic A Christmas Carol is heart-warming and inspiring, it will kick in your teeth all year long if you comprehend what Dickens was actually saying.
Let’s read a few revelatory lines that surprisingly enough still apply to our world today–to hostages, refugees, sex slaves, the homeless, the uneducated, and the underprivileged. I don’t think Dickens crafted this holiday tale to merely entertain fellow Victorians while they sat around roaring fires eating figgy pudding. He told this story–as he told all of his stories–to rattle an entitled and sanctimonious moral culture who believed that donating to the poor on December 24 was generous enough.
Dickens’ contemporaries believed they deserved the blessings they enjoyed, and they believed the poor deserved the hardships they endured. Take a look at the societal themes Dickens attacked in his story:
Concerning the unemployed and criminal: (“They got what was coming to them”)
“Are there no prisons? . . . And workhouses? . . . I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I support the places I have mentioned. Those who are badly off must go there.”–Scrooge
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”--Gentleman raising money for the poor
“If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”--Scrooge
Concerning responsibility: (“It’s all about me”)
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”--Scrooge
“Business! Mankind was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business!”–Jacob Marley’s Ghost
Concerning greed: (“Success is the most important thing”)
“Another idol has replaced me.”–Belle, young Scrooge’s finance
“What idol has displaced you?”–Scrooge
“A golden one. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. . . . And so I release you. You may have pain in this, briefly, and then you will dismiss the recollection of it as an unprofitable dream. May you be happy in the life you have chosen.”–Belle
Concerning impact: (“That’s not my problem”)
“He’s a comical old fellow, and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offenses carry their own punishment. . . . His wealth is of no use to him. He doesn’t do any good with it.”–Fred, Scrooge’s nephew
But thankfully–Concerning change: (“It’s never too late to change”)
“Men’s courses foreshadow certain ends, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Is this not true? . . . Assure me that I may yet change these shadows by an altered life! . . . I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”–Scrooge, in the graveyard
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more. . . He became as good a friend, as good a master, as good a man as the good old city knew.
Implications for today
When you read A Christmas Carol with these themes in mind, you will see a new story unfold. Dickens is not admonishing us to be happy and generous. He’s challenging us to care–to extend a hand beyond our social network and rescue someone.
Tiny Tim’s Christmas exclamation “God bless us, everyone!” must be considered in the context of want and gratitude. His father Bob Cratchit, relayed Tim’s attitude like this: “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn. 13:34)–Jesus (the reason for Christmas!)
Hating the terrorist, suspecting the refugee, and excluding the unfortunate does not relay the Christmas spirit at all, no matter what time of year it is. And such responses to evil and need will most certainly prevent God from blessing us, everyone.
image by www.victorianweb.org