Continuing from yesterday’s post, here’s another glimpse of the marvelous universal narrative presented in A Christmas Carol. After the Ghost of Christmas Present has disappeared from Ebenezer Scrooge’s sight, the old man began to understand his own sad, even hopeless, state. He’s ready for reformation and seems anxious to stand face to face with the last of three spirits Jacob Marley promised would appear, this one The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Scrooge is clearly perplexed by this specific presence who neither speaks nor moves, but conveys its message (and terror) nonetheless.
Scrooge has experienced a new understanding about himself during these night-time visits. He’s immediately aware when this last spirit appears that he will be shown things that may potentially occur. However, the dusky shroud of presence that appears to him is more fearful than either of the other apparitions. He feels “uncertain horror” when the “ghostly eyes” fix upon him.
At this point though, Scrooge seems more than eager to bear what is before him and to “do it with a thankful heart.” The tale that unfolds from here − without the apparition uttering a word − wholly transforms Scrooge. Before the wraith disappears, Scrooge begs: “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life?”
Even if you’ve read it before, you won’t be disappointed to re-read the novella today. Once more, the question begs to be asked: what relevancy does A Christmas Carol hold for those of us living in the twenty-first century?
Charles Dickens was a brilliant man. Today (Christmas Eve) represents for us (as it did for Ebenezer Scrooge) our Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. Not a second of Christmas Yet To Come so far has been written in stone. From Scrooge’s example, we’ve seen how Christmas Past and Christmas Present offer opportunities for selflessness in the Christmas Yet To Come.
How did Dickens portray the change in Ebenezer Scrooge? It was a complete reversal from Scrooge’s previous Humbug attitude. In Scrooge’s case, it meant adopting a spirit of generosity. It meant swallowing his pride for all the vileness he’d sown and shown to people around him. As Dickens reminds, he even learned to laugh again, and “… for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh.” He learned to heartily embrace the words “Merry Christmas!”
Celebration of Christmas isn’t strictly a religious practice. It is that to be sure, yet I acknowledge there are many who celebrate the occasion without relating the day to faith. Likewise, A Christmas Carol doesn’t happen within a religious context, but it is still something of a morality tale. The central character is seeking salvation from the wretched life he’s known and when he realizes how despicable he’s been in the past, he’s eager to embrace transformation (another religious concept).
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
The stone to which he refers is, of course, his own tombstone (notice the tombstone in the picture above). For me, Scrooge’s final plea to the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come brings the entire seemingly non-religious tale into beautiful spiritual perspective.
“Tell me,” Scrooge implores. “Tell me.”
Yet Scrooge is surely old and wise enough to realize no matter how he changes his life, no matter how good he becomes − honoring Christmas in his heart and trying to keep it all year − the day will inexorably arrive when a death date is carved into his headstone.
The latter pages of the tale relate how Scrooge honors Christmas in his heart, but the real nugget of the story comes in Stave 2 (while The Ghost of Christmas Present is visiting) when Dickens refers to Christmas, saying: “… it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”
Interestingly, Jesus offered similar advice in the first verses of Matthew 18: “… unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
A Christmas Carol isn’t meant to be a religious tract, but Dickens and the Babe in the manger acknowledge the same language of love and reconciliation upon which Christmas is (once and for always) the capstone.