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A CHRISTMAS CAROL: - CHRISTMAS FUTURE

Matthew 2:1-12
26th December 2004

Over the past three weeks I have retold Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL written 160 years ago. Many of the social conditions against which Dickens was writing still exist in Australia today. We still know child poverty, grinding credit repayments, greedy businessmen, store managers threatening employees if they did not work today, Sunday, Boxing Day, with no further employment in the new year. We now have shopping centres open 33 hours continuously before Christmas Day with little thought of how tired sales staff would feel on Christmas Day. We must hear its message loud and clear.

The central character is Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy businessman who is the surviving partner of the firm Scrooge and Marley, Stockbrokers. Scrooge is interested most in making money. Business is his main concern. Scrooge is mean and hard. He bullies his clerk, Bob Cratchit. All sentiment, kindness, generosity, tenderness, he dismisses as “humbug”. As Professor Edgar Johnston says: “Scrooge feels he has discharged his full duty to society in contributing the taxes that pay for the prison, the workhouse, the operation of the treadmill and the Poor Laws. “A Christmas Carol” is a parable of social redemption and Scrooge’s conversion is the conversion for which Dickens hopes among mankind”. p256–7 We need to hear that message of social redemption and of Scrooge’s conversion and the conversion of all mankind. Scrooge remains in his greed until he is converted. This Christmas some families spent their incomes of coming months and will enter the New Year no wiser, only another year older and deeper in debt.

We need to hear again that the true Spirit of Christmas does not lie in the acquiring or giving of things, nor in coming out of Christmas with hangovers, neither physical nor financial. Many need to learn the lesson that changed the life of Scrooge. After a miserable Christmas Eve, troubled by his nephew Fred who had called in to wish him Merry Christmas, local businessmen who sought a benevolent donation, and his clerk Bob Cratchit who was shivering in the cold, Scrooge, rugged in his dressing gown, did not sleep that Christmas Eve. At midnight he heard a clanking noise, and into his room swept the eerie ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley.

Marley was in misery bound by chains made from money boxes, cash tins and journals. He warned Scrooge that at one o’clock, the first of three spirits would come for him. The Spirit of Christmas Past arrived and took Scrooge to the village of his childhood. Scrooge saw old school companions, then himself joyously meeting of his sister Fran, who died later giving birth to her son, leaving Scrooge his only relative, his nephew Fred, to whom he had been so rude earlier that day. So Scrooge visited early memories of Christmas from his childhood. A psychiatrist will recognise that Scrooge was visiting scenes of earlier days that had influenced him, contrasting his earlier Christmas experiences with what he was dealing out to others. He was recalling his roots, retracing earlier events, reliving the formative influences on his life and being inwardly troubled. The Spirit of Christmas Past left him back in his cold bedroom to await the second Spirit.

The Spirit of Christmas Present then came and took Scrooge on another visit, this time to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit and his family. Mrs Cratchit’s was excited at the prospect of Christmas dinner. Martha arrived worn out from work in a hat-maker’s sweatshop. Then Bob Cratchit came in the door with their crippled son, Tiny Tim on his shoulders from attending Church. Tiny Tim was carrying his crutch, and said that he hoped people noticed he was in church because they would realise Christmas Day meant the coming of Jesus who made the cripples walk and the blind see.

At the Cratchit home, Christmas dinner was a feast! As Scrooge watched, Bob toasted Christmas Day, then said: “I give you Mr Scrooge” and raised his glass to his absent employer and toasted Scrooge’s health. The Spirit of Christmas Past then took an emotionally exhausted Scrooge back to his room. In the dark another Spirit appeared. “I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” said Scrooge. The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand. “You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,” Scrooge pursued. “Is that so Spirit? Ghost of the Future! I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am pre-pared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.”

The Spirit of Christmas Future took him to a dirty second hand rag shop where a filthy old man was buying clothing, blankets and bed-curtains from a charwoman who had stolen them from a dead man’s house, from a laundress selling his linen which need never be returned, and an undertaker who had recently stripped a body. Without a word the Spirit of Christmas Future took him to a dark and bare room similar to his own. “The room was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared-for, was the body of this man.” It was he!

Scrooge was devastated. Nobody regretted his death. People laughed at his meanness. How he wished he might see people who were loving and tender to a dead person. So the Spirit took him to Bob Cratchit’s house where the family were grieving over the death of poor crippled Tiny Tim! That wrung him out even more. No scenes touches the heart more than the death of the crippled Tiny Tim, foreshadowed to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In the mid-1800’s child mortality was common and many readers suffered firsthand the loss of a child. One observer of a public reading by Dickens of A Christmas Carol in Boston in 1867 noted that the passage of Tiny Tim’s death “brought out so many pocket handkerchiefs that it looked as if a snow-storm had somehow gotten into the hall without tickets”. What was Tiny Tim’s ailment? He was crippled, unable to run, with immense pain in every joint.

In the December 1992 issue of the American Journal of Diseases of Children Dr. Donald Lewis, an assistant professor of Paediatrics and Neurology at the Medical College of Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Virginia, theorized that Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit’s ailing son suffered from a kidney disease that made his blood too acidic, which meant that every joint pained as though he had gout. Dr. Lewis studied the symptoms of Tim’s disease in the original manuscript of 1843. The disease, distal renal tubular acidosis was not recognized until the early 20th century but therapies to treat its symptoms were available in Dickens’ time. Dr. Lewis explained that Tim’s case, left untreated due to the poverty of the Cratchit household, would produce the symptoms alluded to in the novel. According to the Ghost of Christmas Present, Tim would die within a year. The fact that he did not die, was due to Scrooge’s new-found generosity, which brought him proper medical care. Tim’s symptoms would have been treated with alkaline solutions which would counteract the excess acid in his blood and recovery would be rapid.

Then Spirit took Scrooge into a wild and unkempt cemetery and in the darkness to one tomb and pointed to Scrooge to look at it. He replied: “Before I draw nearer to what stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. “Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be, only?” The Spirit remained silent. Scrooge crept towards the gravestone, trembling as he went, and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, “EBENEZER SCROOGE.”.

Scrooge shook from head to toe. He clutched at the Spirit of Christmas Future: “Good Spirit, assure me that I may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life. I will honour 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!” Scrooge was at the point of utter despair of every person who realises the burden of his own guilt and earnestly repents of his past and seeks God’s forgiveness and the opportunity to start all over again. Scrooge was at the point of conversion from selfishness to concern, from greed to generosity, from self to others. He was recognising his own sin and his need for pardon.

It was then he awoke in his own room, threw open the widows and called to a boy in his Sunday clothes in the street: “What is today?” “Today “, replied the boy, “Why, Christmas Day!” “I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath. “I am a merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Merry Christmas to everybody! A Happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!” He paid a boy to rush to the poulterer’s shop to see if the big turkey was still in the window, bought it, and had it delivered by cab to Bob Cratchit’s house. Then he dressed in his finest and walked around the streets calling out to everyone: “Merry Christmas, Sir. A Merry Christmas to You!” like a man who had just been released from death row, for indeed, he had been.

He went to church and prayed to God, then walked about the streets and never realised that anything could give him so much happiness. Scrooge went round to his nephew’s and called out “Fred, It is I. Your Uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in?” And what a day of celebrating they had. The next day he went into work early and as soon as Bob Cratchit arrived gave him a princely rise in his salary. “A Merry Christmas Bob, my good fellow. I’ll raise your salary and endeavour to assist your struggling family.” So the story ends. “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh. His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him. He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle ever afterwards; and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, “God bless Us, Every One!”

How we need to understand the key point to the whole story: if you understand the Spirit of Christmas, your life must be changed. Conversion is the only true response to a true understanding of Christmas. When you understand the difference between how we live and how God wants us to live. When you see what the consequences are of how we are living now, you want to ask God to give you a chance to change, and be a different person.

Gordon Moyes

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.