A Christmas Present

In yesterday’s post, I suggested all of us have similarities to Ebenezer Scrooge − we each have a Ghost of Christmas Past in the sense that our experiences have helped shape our character (or lack thereof) to some extent.

In A Christmas Carol, author Charles Dickens lays out (through the Ghost of Christmas Past) Scrooge’s earlier life and how his experiences engrained in him deep bitterness and hurt. Because Scrooge fed those feelings, he had become a terribly unpleasant and inconsiderate old man.


Again using the example of Scrooge’s night-time visiting spirits, we pivot here from Christmas Past to Christmas Present.

Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Present seems a dearer spirit, “a jolly Giant” dressed in a “green robe … bordered with white fur” and wearing on his head a “holly wreath” set with “shining icicles.” Christmas Present carries a torch that he uses to spread goodness and cheer wherever he goes. He also carries unpleasant knowledge (such as a potentially shortened life for Tiny Tim) that he only reveals to Scrooge in snippets.

So what makes the Ghost of Christmas Present so relevant for us today?

Christmas Present is today, this season in which we’re engaged (some of us more than others). This is our currency … the now. There’s no bringing back Christmas Past. Each one in the past has vaporized to memory.

Scrooge, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Car...
Scrooge, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plus, there’s no guarantee we’ll experience a Christmas Future (as Scrooge experienced the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come). Dropping dead before Christmas, dying on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, we probably all know someone who has experienced such sorrow. Dying before next Christmas may not be a pleasant thought, but it happens. (Forgive me please, if this brings up grievous memories for you!)

We only have today, this moment. I think Scrooge’s Ghost of Christmas Present tried to impress upon Scrooge the importance of making each moment count, and this ghost “lived” the perfect example. The once-vibrant spirit ages so quickly in the tale, Scrooge questions the sudden change. The Ghost tells Scrooge his life is “very brief,” in fact, the length of Christmas Day only.

If we look at our lives this way − making today count and living each day with the same gusto and vigor − the briefness of life becomes irrelevant. I was recently reminded of someone whose life epitomizes this truth.

The man’s name was William Borden, heir of the Borden milk-products family. He was born in 1887 and enjoyed all the advantages of wealth and privilege. While still a teenager, he made a momentous decision to become a missionary and he focused his life with this goal in mind. (Of course, this wasn’t his family’s goal for him; they wanted him to take over the family business.)

Borden entered college at Yale University, spent four years there and went on to Princeton Theological Seminary for three additional years. Friends were dismayed at Borden’s single-minded devotion to serve as a missionary; they considered he was “throwing his life away.” In contrast to this thinking, Borden continued to move forward. In his journal, he wrote:  “Say ‘no’ to self, say ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”

While he was still attending seminary, he gave away his personal fortune. Inside the flyleaf of his Bible, Borden wrote the words:  No Reserve.

After completing his education, job offers followed. He turned them down. Writing once more in his Bible, he added two new words:  No Retreat.

Having chosen to serve as a missionary to China, Borden embarked on his voyage. Beforehand though, he received word his father was seriously ill. Instead of returning immediately to his father’s side, he continued on his journey. Another statement was added in his Bible:  No Regrets.

But Borden never arrived in China to begin his ministry. He was in Cairo when he contracted meningitis and within a month the 25 year old had died. Did he (as some classmates suggested) throw his life away?

It’s true he never achieved his goal of being a missionary to China. Nevertheless, the accounts of the years before he set sail indicate he was already living a life in service to his Lord. He was living in the Present, doing what he believed God wanted him to do now, at each moment. Each activity into which he poured himself became an example to those who worked alongside. Newspapers far and wide carried the sad news of his death.

Borden’s short life conveys the urgency that the Ghost of Christmas Present taught to Ebenezer Scrooge. In thinking of gifts for loved ones, our presence is often our best present.

A Christmas Past

1923-xmas-happy-scroogeLike 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?

ebenezer-scroogeAttending 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!