On Christmas Eve

Ebeneezer Scrooge is one of the great characters in all fiction and his story In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is told and dramatized every December. It is one of the great morality tales in all of literature. It is also an eloquent articulation of the transformative power of love, which is the heart of the Good News.

Scrooge literally has declared war on Christmas. “Merry Christmas! What right do you have to be merry?…Out upon Merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money: a time for finding yourself a year older but not an hour richer… Every idiot that goes about with ‘Merry Christmas” on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

I was first introduced to A Christmas Carol as a child, watching an amateur production at my father’s family’s Methodist Church. I still recall sitting bolt upright in the pew, just as Scrooge sat up in his bed, at the sound of Jacob Marley’s ghost moaning and thumping theatrically up the stairs and the clanging of the chains and money boxes he was dragging. I loved Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, of course, and the way it ends, with everybody happy and Scrooge transformed and redeemed. Best of all, when the production ended Santa Clause appeared and all the children were invited to come forward to receive a small cardboard container with a string handle full of chocolate candy.

Dickens was close to the mark. The Gospel is about the power of love to change, redeem, and save, to make a difference in the lives of men and women and in the life of the world.

A generation after his birth, life, death and resurrection, one of Jesus’ followers wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God… God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.” What a remarkable notion that is. God is love and when human beings love God lives in them and they live in God.

Every civilization and culture has pondered ultimate questions. Early philosophers concluded that if there is an Ultimate it must be perfect, complete, one, lacking nothing. God, the philosophers said, has no incompleteness, no needs, certainly no feelings and emotions. The Greeks has a word for it, the “apatheia” of God, from which we derive the word apathy…God without feelings, expectations, hopes. God, if God exists, must be pure truth, pure light, pure knowledge, untouched and uncontaminated by the messy neediness of humanity.

The Gospel proclaims the exact opposite: that God does have feelings, and that God encounters the world of human beings, that God is hopelessly and relentlessly in love with the world and human beings, that God lives, not in text books or creeds, not in temples, cathedrals and churches, but in human love, in acts of human love.

Diana Eck, in Encountering God, says that “The language of faith is the language of affection.. Faith language is analogous to the language we use when we say “I love you”.

The miracle of love is that the more you love, the more alive you are. Fortunate people have learned how to love, how to give love, resources, gifts, life itself. At its simplest and best it is what Christmas is about: for the young, the excitement of gifts received: for the older, the yearly reminder that it is not only better to give than to receive, but a lot more joyful as well. It is why we give gifts and send greeting cards and pen long, heart felt Christmas letters. It is why we are kinder, more generous and shower sweets and cookies and jars of homemade jam. It is a yearly reminder of what it means to be fully alive, to be, in a small way, an instrument of God’s love, God’s life transforming love in the world.

Ebneezer Scrooge is a reminder that it is never too late. After his harrowing, sleepless night, he is a changed man, converted, redeemed, his life literally saved. He sends the biggest turkey in the shop to the Cratchit home: he is giddy with happiness wishing his startled neighbors and shopkeepers a “Merry Christmas!” He even goes to church.

On the last page of A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens wrote: “Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh… His own heart laughed..and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well.” Dickens concluded, “May that be said of us as well. And so, as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God bless us, every one'”.

Here’s Wendell Berry on the theme:

     I know that I have life
     only insofar as I have love.

     I have no love
     except it come from Thee.

     Help me, please, to carry
     this candle against the wind.

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