A Christmas Carol. A Christian Carol?
I’ve just finished reading through Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (pretty short, just 66 pages in my Best Ghost Stories). It’s classic Dickens – and even if you don’t go in for his long and flowery sentences, it’s an easy read, funny too. I was reminded that one of the closest TV adaptation to the original is actually (and I say this without a hint of irony), The MuppetsChristmas Carol where much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the text and names are only slightly changed: Mr Fozziwigg (Fozzi Bear) is actually Fezziwigg in the text.
Muppets aside, it’s a great redemption story. Or is it? It certainly seems to be a remarkable change of heart. But this time around I read it more critically. Is it really a Christian story, a true Christmas Carol, as it purports to be? There is certainly a change. Ebenezer Scrooge goes from being a tight-fisted miser (Bah! Humbug!) to a generous philanthropist. But what has changed him? It’s clear from the story that he’s changed by the frightening insight into what has happened to his dead partner, Jacob Marley. His chains and padlocks represent his failings (especially, though not only in generosity) which will be heaped sevenfold on Scrooge because he is nothing like as kind as Marley. A frightening thought indeed.
Frightening enough, indeed to spur Scrooge on to change. As do the future visions of his death and what people will say about him. He lives in dread of not being remembered, or only for the wrong reasons. His change is thus entirely self-motivated. He wants, in essence, to work his way out of hell. The book paints a picture of a man who is completely successful in this endeavour. As such, I think this ripping yarn is actually anti-gospel. Change is good, of course. True change includes conviction and a desire to live differently. But where this change comes from selfish motives rather than an encounter with the God of Christmas come down, it is ultimately doomed. “I desire to change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life” is Scrooge’s new mantra.
There is grace however: first in Scrooge’s assistant Bob Cratchitt who insists on a Christmas Day toast “To Scrooge, the founder of the feast” (in Scrooge’s vision) and in Scrooge’s nephew Fred who insists on offering friendship and warmth to his uncle despite the lack of any return.
However, ultimately, despite Scrooge’s Christ-less promise to “honour Christmas in my heart”, we need to know that there is One, like the Spirit of Christmas present, who invites us to “come in and know me better, man” and himself provides the means to do so. Therein is the change and the Christmas Carol we all need to hear.