G. K. Chesterton called Charles Dickens the poet of fog. In A Christmas Carol, for example, London’s fog serves as a backdrop from which characters emerge with lamps and light.
When Scrooge is first greeted by the caroling of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” he responds such that “the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog.”
Dickens’s fog is not dismal or dark, Chesterton says, but rather something that draws in and, in the case of Scrooge, corners. Fog “makes the world small, in the same spirit as in that common and happy cry that the world is small, meaning it is full of friends.” The fog of London brings messengers to Scrooge and eventually sees him return to friends.
Chesterton is picking up on the theme of comfort. Comfort, after all, “belongs peculiarly to Christmas; above all it belongs preeminently to Dickens.” The fog draws Scrooge inward, to a place of comfort. For inside there are fires and feasts. Chesterton explains:
The beauty and the real blessing of the story do not lie in the mechanical plot of it, the repentance of Scrooge, probable or improbable; they lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything round him.
Our Contemporary Fog
Our day is a fog. Bleak headlines and cultural conflicts fill our streets and airwaves. Confusion pervades. Yet we often fail to see this fog as a reminder to move to places of comfort, places with fires and friends, places that arrive naturally at this time of year.
George MacDonald called Christmas Day the “one day that blesses all the year.” Because at the heart of Christmas is a message of comfort—the heralding of a kingdom that brings “tidings of comfort and joy.”
The promise of a Messiah-King came in a blessing from the patriarch Jacob to his son Judah, that through him a king would reign (Gen. 49:10). Chris Bruno explains:
It was into this broken family line that God promised the scepter of kingship, the ruler’s staff. But the descendant of Judah would not only be the king of Israel, he would also be a king over the nations.
God’s people saw part of this prophecy fulfilled with the rise of King David, about whom Nathan said: God will “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:13). Yet David revealed only part of what was yet still to come.
“The Old Testament ends with the messianic promise unfulfilled,” Andreas Köstenberger writes, but the New Testament “begins with a verse that declares Jesus to be the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the long-awaited Messiah!” (Matt. 1:1)
Thus, when the angel of the Lord brings “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10) to the shepherds, it marked the end of 400 years of intertestamental silence about the coming Messiah.
Into the darkness of night emerged a lamp; into the cold, damp fog a light began to flicker: the arrival of Jesus, Messiah King. J. I. Packer powerfully articulates the hope of this first Advent:
The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message the world has ever heard or will hear.
Return of the King
At present, though Jesus rules at the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20–23), we do not yet see “everything in subjection to him” (Heb. 2:8). Still, we have hope that Jesus—“the ruler of kings on earth” (Rev. 1:5)—will come again to reign in full. Into our world of fog he will return, and “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
The former things will pass away. Everything sad will come untrue. But as we wait in what often feels like a dense, low-visibility fog of fear and despair, may we grow—like Scrooge—in our receptivity to warmth, light, and hope. Just as Dickens used fog to drive Scrooge to light, friends, comfort—God uses the fog of darkness in our day to draw people to himself, the light who shines on the people living in deep darkness (Isa. 9:2).
The story of the reigning and returning Messiah-King is the Christmas Carol. Into the cold fog may it bring warm tidings of comfort and joy, this Christmas and every Christmas.