We have short memories of poor, wretched Ebenezer Scrooge. Here was a fallen man in desperate need of redemption, with absolutely no desire to turn from his egregious ways. Then three spirits visited him, and all changed overnight. But the Scrooge we remember is not the forgiven one. It is not the redeemed curmudgeon whose joy on Christmas morning led him to leap through the air like a drunken man, exclaiming “Glorious, glorious!” We like to keep Scrooge locked in our hearts as the greedy, depraved, unregenerate sinner of his pre-visitation, using him as a cautionary tale about the damning effects of pursuing money and gain.
Ebenezer found joy, but we rarely let him have it. Yet when this joy was finally loosed in him, it knew no bounds.
Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s lowly employee, had a joy that transcended his earthly circumstances, which included a sick child, intolerable working conditions, and a salary that barely afforded him the essential provisions to feed his family. But it was Cratchit’s joy that led him to hope for his son, feel charity toward his boss, and celebrate Christmas with an overflowing heart. Bob Cratchit had a joy that could not be contained.
Christmas cannot be contained, because the gospel can never be silenced. The world cannot shut out the light of Christ shining in the hearts of his children. But sometimes we find the light has dimmed. Writing in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens tells us that Cratchit’s wife initially refused to participate in a toast to Scrooge on Christmas. We’re tempted to follow her example. We let bitterness, anger, and discontentment dim the light of Christ’s birth from shining brighter in our lives. Though God has given us every good thing through the birth of his son, we have chosen instead to harbor doubt and distrust and condemn the very spirit of Christmas. Angry that Christmas has morphed into a commercial spectacle devoid of meaning we must defend, some of us have become angry little elves.
Even though Christmas has been somewhat corrupted, there’s almost no other time of the year when talking about the gospel is so acceptable. It is stunning to turn on CBS and hear Linus reading from the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas, or watch Christmas at Rockefeller Center and hear a pop star sing Joy to the World. When else is the gospel so prominently proclaimed?
Yet we want to play the Christmas police and protect the “real meaning of the season.” Why do we expect a world that lives in darkness to understand Christmas in a way that only believers can? Are we Pharisees who want people to say the right words with the wrong hearts? Do we replace love for disgust, joy for disdain, peace for confusion, patience with intolerance, kindness for selfishness, faithfulness for ignorance, gentleness for harshness, and self control for selfish ambition?
May it never be said of us. Instead, let us display the heart of Christ to a world that desperately needs changed hearts.
Dickens did not write a gospel story, but A Christmas Carol still gives us a glorious model of a sinner’s transformation from darkness into light. From a contaminated heart to joy uncontained.
For Ebenezer Scrooge, there was no Christ in Christmas until after he was redeemed. Let us all remember Scrooge for what he became to remind ourselves of who we once were.