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A Dickens’ Christmas Pt 3: CONSEQUENCES and Christmas Present

Scott on December 24, 2008 at 1:40 am

(PREFACE:  This is the third in a series of 4 messages that I wrote in 2007 for the pastor of my old church.  When he presented this series, he unfortunately chose to gut lot of the content , so I decided this Christmas to put them up in their original form.  These messages were conceptualized to be  multimedia-oriented including artwork, still images, video, etc.  That, too, was gutted by my former pastor.  I have done my best here to present the messages with at least a semblance of what I saw in my head as I was writing this series.)

In parts I and II of this series we began to look at the life of Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in Charles Dickens’ most famous story, “A Christmas Carol,” written in 1843.  The elements of this story are embedded within the fabric of popular culture, from the characters within the story like Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and of course Ebenezer Scrooge, to the visits by the ghosts of Past, Present and Future, even to the story’s setting of jolly old England in winter with its cobblestone streets, brownstone houses, roasting chestnuts and carolers.

Ebenezer Scrooge is a bitter old man living heaped in misery of his own making, a man who makes others around him miserable.  He is so foul a human being that his very name is distasteful to anyone who knows him.  Scrooge’s number one passion, his overriding goal in life, is to acquire more and more wealth.  The pursuit of riches has caused him to forsake everything else in life and has reduced him to a hollow shell of humanity.  He finds no joy in the wealth he has acquired.  He doesn’t spend it on himself or on others.  At the same time, his avarice has led him into a lonely existence.  He has no one in his life to love or who loves him, no wife or children or friends of any kind.  He turned his back on his one chance at a romantic relationship long ago when he was a young man.  When his only surviving relative, the son of his dead sister, invites him to Christmas dinner, he rejects that small offer of human companionship, preferring to sit alone in his cold, dark house.

On a dark, Christmas Eve night, Scrooge’s long-dead partner Jacob Marley appears to him and tells him that while he may not know it, he is in trouble.  Marley explains that as a ghost he is wrapped in a heavy, burdensome chain and is doomed to walk the earth, dragging the chain with him.  While he lived, Marley created the chains that bind him and weigh him down in death, chains with links made of humanity’s darkest characteristics-greed, selfishness and indifference.  And according to Marley, Scrooge’s chains are even longer and more weighty.  Marley describes that kind of ghostly existence this way:

No rest, no peace.  Incessant torture of remorse.

A chilling description of a life devoid of meaning and purpose, a life removed from relevance to the world – existing in a perpetual state of sorrow over the things done or not done in life that cannot be changed.

So Marley is given a chance to put Scrooge on notice – old, mean, bitter, miserly Ebenezer must have a change of heart and soul, he must have a total life TRANSFORMATION, or else he will follow in the footsteps of poor Marley, condemned to wander the earth in a hellish existence without peace, consumed with remorse.

Francis Schaeffer, noted Christian philosopher and theologian, once described humanity as “a glorious ruin.” This just about sums up the state of Scrooge’s heart and soul.  His life is empty, devoid of real meaning and purpose.  He corrupts what he touches and leaves in his wake a path of sadness and despair.  He is truly a ruin of humanity, a miserable, pitiful wretch.

A more contemporary version of Ebenezer Scrooge in modern story telling would be Gordon Gecko, the financial mogul and one of the central characters in the movie “Wall Street.”  Gecko’s words at one point in the film would certainly seem to summarize Ebenezer Scrooge’s modus operandi:

Greed – for lack of a better word is good. Greed is right.  Greed works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.

But in contrast, the Bible has this to say about this kind of attitude:

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.    Ephesians 4:18-19 (NIV)

A continual lust for more, an insatiable desire to amass more of everything, a belief that greed is a good and noble attitude by which to guide one’s life – that certainly describes Ebenezer Scrooge.

After Jacob Marley, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  When this Ghost arrives he shines the uncompromising light of personal history into Scrooge’s life.  He is forced to see himself as he really was in his past.  He is forced to witness how decisions in his life have shaped and warped him into the mean, old, twisted man that he is today.  This process of self-evaluation, of seeing into his own past, is the first step towards TRANSFORMATION.  This step is called REGRET.

Scrooge regrets how he has been treating the poor of the world and ignoring their need basic needs; how he has been underpaying and underappreciating his clerk, Bob Cratchit; how he has rejected the invitation his nephew Fred extended to him to spend Christmas with him and his young wife, indeed how he has rejected any sort of relationship with his sister’s only child.  He regrets having turned his back on his only love, Belle, in order to pursue a life pursuing wealth.

Through REGRET, the Ghost of Christmas Past begins to move Scrooge towards a changed life.  This ghost leaves Scrooge after he begins the process of self-reflection and the realization that his life doesn’t match up with what it needs to be.

REGRET is one of the mechanisms that God has created that sends the signal that we have done something wrong, that we have sinned.

” yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret “  2nd Corinthians 7:9-10 (NIV)

REGRET – genuine sorrow that recognizes that our attitudes and actions cause harm to those around us and to ourselves -and- that our sinfulness is something that cannot be solved through our own efforts but only through the work of Christ – this REGRET leads us to repentance.  It is an attitude of heart and mind that leads us to acknowledge our complete and utter need for something beyond ourselves, that leads us to turn away from our sinful lives and towards the life that God intends for us.

And as the Ghost of Christmas Past leaves Scrooge, we see that the poor, old, miserly skinflint is on his way towards TRANSFORMATION.

Which brings us to the next ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Present.

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At the coming of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Ebenezer is shown how his actions in the present affect all those with whom he interacts.  In short, his eyes begin to open and he begins to recognize the CONSEQUENCES of his life choices.  He is forced to see how he quite literally makes life miserable for all those around him.  Furthermore, it is revealed to him how this way of living – this life of greed, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, selfishness and the like – pays out consequences to everyone in society, both to those who are guilty of these offenses and to those who are victims to the same way of life. (SLIDE)

The Ghost first takes Scrooge to the very humble home of Bob Cratchit and his family – poor Bob, Scrooge’s underpaid and underappreciated clerk who is forced to raise his family in horrible conditions.  Their clothes are shabby.  Their meals are barely enough to stave off starvation.  Each child is forced to work as soon as they are able in order to help support the rest of the family.

The Cratchits embody the CONSEQUENCES of Ebenezer Scrooge’s life of avarice.  The Cratchits are the victims of his pursuit of wealth as he underpays right-hand-man and clerk.  They are victims to the greed of Scrooge and others like him who think nothing about taking advantage of desperate people, people that are in such dire need that they are forced to borrow money that they cannot repay and forced to put their children to work long hours in horrible conditions for very little money. (SLIDE)

And yet, in spite of this, the Cratchits are also the embodiment of Christian love and the Christmas Spirit.  As Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present observe them, the family rejoices to be together as they celebrate Christmas, celebrating in the midst of their poverty and need. (SLIDE)  The family gives heart-felt thanks for their extremely meager Christmas feast, a meal that is barely more than a few bites per mouth around the table.  The family laughs and loves, in spite of their extremely humble surroundings.  Scrooge is even treated to the sight of his poorly paid and underappreciated clerk as he raises a cup of Christmas punch and toasts his employer (the same Ebenezer Scrooge) as the “founder of the Christmas feast,” in spite of all the misery that Scrooge has heaped upon him over the years.  But in an attitude of Christmas gratitude, Bob insists that Scrooge be honored as the one who supplies his meager wage.

During this time with the ghost, Scrooge observes the Cratchit’s youngest child, Tiny Tim, who suffers from a debilitating illness that has crippled him, an illness that could easily be taken care of if the family only had money for the necessary treatments and medications; and yet in spite of his condition this young boy exemplifies the joy of Christmas.  When he and his father return home after attending a Church service, Bob says:

“Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard.  He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

So while others might see a reason for self-pity, Tim sees an opportunity for others to view the hand of God in the world.  While others might see a reason for Christmas to be a time of bitterness, Tim sees one more reason for God to be praised and worshipped, not in spite of his handicap but BECAUSE of it!

While the Cratchits typify the consequences of Scrooge’s lifestyle, they also exemplify the power of Christ to extend Grace into a situation, to bring joy out of sorrow.

The idea of consequences is driven home to Scrooge when he asks the Ghost about Tim’s future.

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For as long as I can remember, this line from the story has echoed about in my mind

If he is going to die, then he had better do it and decrease the surplus population.

OUCH!  The Ghost uses Scrooge’s own words from the beginning of the story against him to condemn his attitudes. In a shot of painful, stark reality Scrooge must face the logical conclusions of his life, the CONSEQUENCES of his actions and attitudes.  If his philosophy of life is a valid one and if, in fact, his way of evaluating the world in terms of a cost-benefit analysis is fair and effective, then there is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON for him to grieve the future death of Tiny Tim because Tim is a drain on society.  According to Scrooge’s paradigm – his world view – Tiny Tim and all those like him should be eliminated, Thus they are put out of their misery and society is relieved of their burden.

Again we hear an echo of Gordon Gecko’s philosophy of “evolutionary spirit” that he believes works to advance humanity through greed.  If the embodiment of evolutionary philosophy is survival of the fittest, then the evolutionary sense of justice dictates that Tiny Tim and others like him be eliminated from society because they are not among the fittest.  The poor, the crippled, the ignorant – they should all be eliminated in order to free society for future growth and evolution.

It is easy for a calloused life and hollow soul to pronounce judgment on others with whom they do not have to interact.  But it is another thing all together when that calloused soul must look into the face of those whom it would condemn.  This type of world view ignores one very essential point, namely that it’s method of evaluating the worth of a person – the criteria that Scrooge’s paradigm uses to decide whether a person is valuable enough to keep – or –  if they are devoid of value and thus deserving to be discarded – this criteria is completely arbitrary and is skewed in favor of the few who are wealthy and affluent.  The worth of a soul, the actions of a kind and loving heart, and the distinguishing characteristics of a solid family or of a good friend – these things do not enter into the equation.  As the Ghost tells him:

“Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?  It may be that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.”

The Bible confirms this idea in this way:

He [God] saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.  So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth.  Job 5:15-16

The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.  But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.  Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous.  Psalm 37:13-17

And here we see into the heart of the author, Charles Dickens.  During his life, Dickens experienced the degradation and humiliation of poverty and the victimization of the poor.  When he was 12 years old, Dickens’ father was sent to debtor’s prison. (SLIDE)   His mother and the rest of the children went with him into the prison, leaving young Charles to work at a shoe factory to support the family and pay off the debt.  As a 12 year old, he was forced to live the working life of a grown man and to carry the burden of familial responsibility and he was forced to live the life of the working poor. (SLIDE)  Horrible working conditions, long hours, unfair pay, disease and malnutrition.  During this time in England’s history and at this level of existence, child labor was rampant and most adults rarely spared a kind word or an act of kindness for abandoned or orphaned children.  They had big problems of their own to worry about and thus had very little compassion to spare for others.

Around the time he wrote “A Christmas Carol,” it was estimated that nearly half of all funerals in London were for children under the age of ten.  Those who survived their childhood typically grew up without education, or resources, or any chance to escape from the poverty into which they were born.  Because of this, Dickens was passionate about the need to educate the poor, to equip them to move beyond their ignorance and to move out into the world and make a way for themselves.  Many of the stories that Dickens crafted and many of the characters in his books grew out of his experiences and his understanding of the plight of the poor and needy.  David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol – these stories all echo this need for humanity to recognize the consequences of its actions.

Christmas Present continues to move Ebenezer on throughout England to observe others during Christmas.  In essence, the Ghost allows Scrooge to see Christmas through the eyes of the poor and needy and those that he would so quickly and easily dismiss as being unworthy of life. (SLIDE)

Time and again, Scrooge witnesses the love and joy of Christmas at work (SLIDE) and, slowly, he begins to recognize that as it stands now, his life is shallow and devoid of meaning while the poor and less fortunate in the world have a depth of meaning in their lives that he can’t even begin to understand.

So here we pause as the Ghost of Christmas Present leaves Scrooge  who is faced with contemplating the CONSEQUENCES his life’s actions, attitudes and choices.  Scrooge has moved beyond REGRET – beyond the recognition of wrong actions and attitudes – and has begun to understand the consequences of his life of bitterness and greed, consequences to both himself and those around him.

He is well on his way toward TRANSFORMATION.

But what about us

Where are each of us in relation to the consequences of our actions and attitudes? Are we able to step back, as it were, and invisibly observe ourselves as we interact with the world around us?  Are we aware of -or-  indifferent to the needs of others around us? How do we deal with our family and friends, or co-workers or schoolmates and teachers?  How about the people we run into every day as we shop or go to Starbucks or when we catch a movie?  What about the homeless that we see on the street corners?   And then there’s the neighbor down the street or the person working at the post office, or the secretary behind a desk that never seems to have taken lessons on proper etiquette and seems to have no concept on how to be polite?

Especially at this time of year, when the stress and hustle of the season can make even going to store a chore, are we aware of how we treat others?  Are we aware of what we give out to others?  And I don’t just mean in terms of financial giving in the little red buckets outside the mall.  I mean are we aware of what we give out to others in relation to how we treat them, how we speak to them, how we recognize their needs and their situations?

Even closer to home, how do we deal with our friends and family? Are we indifferent to their situations?  Are we more concerned with our own wants than we are about their needs?  I look back at times in my past when my own children have wanted my attention, have needed me for some reason for another, but I have been so wrapped up in my own concerns that I put my kids aside and told them “not now,” or “maybe later,” or an outright, “no.”  Those situations have their own consequences – hurt feelings, a sense of distance in the relationship, wounds of the heart that will eventually heal over but that will also leave a scar.   The recognition of those consequences and the regret I feel, these are the tools that the Lord uses in my heart and mind to convict me about those areas where I am far from His way of living.

There are CONSEQUENCES to the decisions we make in life and to the actions we live out on a daily basis.  The consequences play out in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us.  CONSEQUENCES are like the ripples in a pond, in constant motion as they ricochet back and forth, overlapping and becoming larger and larger in time.  Actions and attitudes of the past echo into the present and on into the future, generating consequences that can’t be anticipated but that will affect people for years to come.

One man’s greed has ramifications for the hundreds or even thousands of people he might interact with during his lifetime.   The indifference of an individual, or of a group, allows for social ills to continue on unchecked.  Apathy undercuts the desire to be the light of God and a conduit of blessing for an unbelieving world.

Sin is unavoidable in this world.  It is a part of our existence.  But when we ignore the signs of sin in our lives, ignore the REGRET that we feel when we have done something wrong while also ignoring the CONSEQUENCES of our actions from day to day, then we create a system of negative interactions that feeds back on itself and continues to inflict great harm on us all.

So far we We have looked at REGRET and have experienced CONSEQUENCES, but there is still one more step to take on the path towards TRANSFORMATION.  In part IV, we look at the Ghost of Christmas Future and Judgment.

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