Like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, every one of us has a Ghost of Christmas Past. I don’t suggest we’ve encountered ghostly presences such as Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased former business partner. When I consider the idea of Christmas Past, I’m looking through the lens of experiences that have marked our lives, sometimes adversely, to contribute to the person I am (or you are) today.
Humbug! may not be your knee-jerk response to greetings of Merry Christmas, though it appears to have been a typical Scrooge expression. Whether you celebrate Christmas in traditional fashion or you don’t celebrate it at all, it’s almost inevitable that one’s life experiences have parallels to Ebenezer Scrooge. Look back at your life. Am I correct?
Attending boarding school as a child, Scrooge experienced extended loneliness, feelings of abandonment, social and familial alienation. Those feelings brought lifelong scars. Later, as a young adult, his gruff personality already entrenched into selfishness, his fiancée walks away from their relationship. This appears to have been a crushing blow for quashing all tenderness in the aging Scrooge. When in the company of the Ghost of Christmas Past, he seethes with anger, underscoring the bitterness on which he’s fed for years.
Thinking of Christmas Past, the story of a young couple comes to mind. It’s a post-war era and families around the world are exchanging gifts and feeling enough of a distance from World War II to celebrate the hope of peace (though battling nations rarely lay down arms or hatred for long). Optimism is on the uptick. Housing is beginning to pick up, jobs are on the rise, and the Baby Boom is making history.
Still, this post-war era seems fraught with uncertainties: Mahatma Ghandi is murdered, tension between India and Pakistan threatens further escalation, the Soviets blockade West Berlin, South Africa institutes apartheid, Israel becomes an independent state. Earthquakes kill thousands. WWII is past, but peace seems desperately out of reach. (A perilous world similar to the days when Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem.)
Like Mary and Joseph, the story of this young couple centers on an impending childbirth. However, the similarities screech to a halt there. This young Gentile couple already have a son, born two years earlier and three days after Christmas. Now, they’re awaiting the birth of a second child who arrives late in the evening of Christmas Day.
Unlike the first Christmas parents, this couple has no divine instruction for naming their daughter. When they choose an unusual French name, their seemingly whimsical choice surely creates a stir. What’s wrong with Mary or Susan or Linda or Barbara (the popular names that year)? Does anyone cattily suggest the young father had a wartime French girlfriend of the same name?
No matter. The couple ignore idle talk, focusing instead that this child with the unusual name is their Christmas gift to each other. They suffer no illusions their child will save the world; they simply love, nurture and do what they can to provide a peaceful home life for her and her siblings. (Yes, four younger siblings arrive in the years that follow.)
This is of course my Christmas Past (and that of my parents). That unusual name Renée I wear today had the potential to be Michelle Renée (Daddy’s choice) but Mamma overruled and I became Renée Louise.
In contrast to Ebenezer Scrooge, the events of my early life thankfully didn’t draw me into bitterness and lost relationships.
Nevertheless, my naming definitely worked to frame my identity. Sharing the same (traditional) birthday as Jesus, I understood from an early age a desire to confirm a personal relationship with him. Then one day, I discovered my name’s meaning: reborn. That I am and when Christmas Day arrives each year, I’m mindful I share a birthday with the Savior, but one day I will be forever in his presence.
This, as the angel told the shepherds, is truly the “… good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:8-11) Good news indeed!