Except for the biblical story of the birth of Jesus, there is probably no other
Christmas story as popular as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Though the
story takes place in 1843, there is a timeless quality to the story’s characters
and morals which has made this tale a classic. The story of the miraculous
conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge has been performed on stage (as a play and
as a ballet), and there are several movie adaptations (my personal favorite
being the 1992 The Muppets Christmas Carol).
In the spring of 1843, Dickens set out to write a pamphlet about the unjust
conditions in industrialized England. Curiously, at the same time Dickens
took interest in some lost Christmas traditions. The 19th century was the age
of romanticism, and a general strong interest in customs and traditions of a
‘better’ past. In the first part of the 19th century, Christmas in England had
almost entirely become a holiday which would be observed in church, but not
at home. Dickens, passionate and romantic himself, sought for a way to infuse
the holiday with the more secular traditions of music, dance, feasting, family,
and gift giving.
Dickens never succeeded in finishing his pamphlet. Instead, his passion for the
poor and the quest for long lost Christmas traditions led to A Christmas Carol.
The book was an instant commercial and critical success. All 6,000 copies of
the original printing were sold within a month. It has often been said that the
truth, told in a matter-of-fact way, usually doesn’t have the same impact as the
same truth conveyed in a (fairy) tale. One can safely say that a mere pamphlet
about the plight of the poor wouldn’t have had the same impact as Dickens’
inspired story of the true spirit of Christmas. Just think about it: Christmas still
is the most charitable time of the year. In the end, our charity, our giving, is a
mere reflection of the ultimate gift God gave us – Jesus, the Son, child in the
manger and man on the cross. This is what we celebrate.
This Advent season in worship we will explore the familiar Scriptures of the
Christmas story while also examining the lessons Ebenezer learns amidst A
Christmas Carol. Together, may we all be transformed as we explore our past,
present and future in light of Immanuel, God with us.