More Than Just A Christmas Carol
I was reading a recent article by Tony Reinke, diagramming “A Christmas Carol”, by one of my personal favorite literary masters, Charles Dickens. My mother had me reading the Great Illustrated Classic versions of “A Tale of Two Cities”, “David Copperfield”, “Great Expectations”, and so on from the time I was 6. Naturally, I grabbed his other books.
A couple of years ago, I began my own tradition of reading “A Christmas Carol”, beginning 2 or 3 weeks before Christmas itself. But little pieces of the Gospel began to illuminate a little more every year.
For Dickens, Christmas is a reminder that we are all Scrooges, self-centered ungrateful nobs who yet have some hope of appeasing God through our personal reform.
Reinke lists some notable symbolism:
- Dickens wants people to die in peace
- Dickens’ hope is rooted in the future – in the finished work of moral reform necessary in our lives
- Dickens’ work is good for what it is, a seasonal, warmhearted morality tale. For that I find it agreeable and commendable.
And then, a few days ago as I dusted the classic Christmas tale of the shelf again. On the first page, there it was.
There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
And then later, as his nephew barges in,
There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!
Moral reform is not the aim of the Gospel, but certainly it is a by-product of it. But in the first quotation above, the thing that struck me is that this self-centered, cold, joyless, empty, hard-hearted old Scrooge is what it takes to make a wonderful story. From the first page we’re given an encouraging foreshadowing to a great end result. We know it will end alright, even though I’m about to read 131 more pages, until we’re able to see the complete transformation.
The principle of reading this surely patterns the roots of Christ’s redemption in Genesis.
And that’s what it is. Moral reform. Peace and good will toward men. Joy to the world. Redemption. Scrooge is an earthly, crusted, shadowed tale of what Christmas represents. Redemption.
And in Dickens’ London culture of 1852 and maybe using real-life examples, his story has continue to embody good things, even if indirectly rooted in the hope that change can happen. In anyone’s life. Christ made it possible.