Merry Christmas Charles Dickens

I went to see the new, animated version of A Christmas Carol last weekend and I was amazed at the way the gospel shines through in the story.

It had been a long time since I had read the story or seen a movie adaptation of it and I was surprised to recall how Christ-centered the message of the story really is. Here are a couple of examples:

The ghost of Scrooge’s business partner appears to him wrapped in chains.

Jacob Marley tells Scrooge that he is suffering in the after-life. “But you were always a good man of business,” Scrooge replies. This prompts Marley to exclaim:

Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

Isn’t that a good summary of who Jesus is? Mankind is his business and the common welfare is his whole reason for existing. When Marley says this should have been his business too, while he was alive, he is implicitly acknowledging how we are all included in Jesus and are all participants in Jesus’ work to take care of each person. Without getting into a whole long discourse on what hell may or may not be, I can take Dickens basic point as being rooted in the gospel: if we don’t learn to live as the children of the Father that we really are in Jesus then we are going to be miserable.

And there’s a phrase in Marley’s speech that you don’t hear much nowadays: “the common welfare.” One of the themes that shines through in the story, and is well illustrated by this new movie version, is the outrage that Charles Dickens felt at the way people treated one another in England in the 1840s. Even though they celebrated the birth of Jesus, whose business is mankind and the common welfare, they weren’t doing a good job of living like those who are included in Jesus’ life. Children went hungry, men worked 6 and 7 days a week for low wages with no vacation, and someone like Tiny Tim could actually die from lack of health care.

Books like A Christmas Carol helped change these circumstances in England and America. (Well, all except the health care part. People can still die here in America because they don’t have money for health care.)

At the end of the story, after the three Christmas spirits have visited him, Scrooge goes to his nephew’s house where a Christmas party is in full swing.

The day before his nephew had generously and lovingly invited Scrooge to join them and Scrooge had heaped scorn on the young man. Now, his whole perspective changed, Scrooge enters the house and the party comes to a dead stop. Everyone turns and looks at the withered old man standing in the doorway. And Scrooge quietly says:

I’ve come, if you’ll have me.

At that moment everyone rushes to embrace him, joyfully welcoming him into the party. Scrooge reminds me of the older son in the parable of the prodigal – the one who remains standing out in the dark, refusing to come into the Father’s house to celebrate the reconciliation of all things. Dickens, I think, has given us in Ebenezer Scrooge an image of what it might look like when the self-righteous, angry “older sons” of the world repent and come into the celebration.

I don’t imagine that Charles Dickens was much of a theologian, or perhaps would have expressed the gospel in the Trinitarian terms which we at The Adopted Life are working so hard to promote. I do, however, think that I see in A Christmas Carol a story written by a man whose imagination was baptized in the Holy Spirit and who could see the practical implications of the gospel.

Dickens paints a picture of humanity bound together in the fraternal bonds of the incarnation of the Son of God as the man Jesus Christ. This is what we are celebrating at Christmas, that Jesus has made one new humanity in his flesh and blood (Eph. 2:15.)

Merry Christmas Charles Dickens.

Thanks for reminding us that Christmas is about Christ and humanity in union with each other and with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

~ Jonathan Stepp

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