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A Dickens’ Christmas Pt 4: JUDGEMENT and Christmas Future

Scott on December 24, 2008 at 1:56 am

(PREFACE:  This is the fourth in a series of messages that I wrote in 2007 for the pastor of my old church.  When he presented this series, he unfortunately chose to gut a 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.)

Over the last three messages we have been looking at the life and times of Ebenezer Scrooge within “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.  At the beginning of the Story, Scrooge is the meanest of the mean. The ghost of his long dead partner Jacob Marley appears to inform him that he has been forming a spiritual chain of sorts, a long, heavy ponderous chain of actions and consequences that weighs down his soul and that will eventually condemn him to wander the earth as a ghost just like Jacob, forever living in misery, observing the suffering of others but never able to do anything about it.  Quite a metaphor for Hell.  The only hope for Scrooge, the only way for him to be relieved of this long, ponderous chain, is to endure visits by three ghosts who have things to show him in order to guide him down the path towards TRANSFORMATION.

Ghost #1, Christmas Past, uses the shadows of Scrooge’s past to reveal how the decisions he has made throughout his life have marred and scarred his heart and soul.  Christmas Past stimulates an unfamiliar feeling in Scrooge, the feeling of REGRET and a sense of remorse over the negative actions and attitudes of his life.

The 2nd ghost, Christmas Present, opens Scrooge’s eyes to the CONSEQUENCES of his life choices – how decisions he has made in his life have negative consequences both for himself and for others around him.  CONSEQUENCES are like ripples in a pond, spreading outward in larger and larger circles of influence.  As he recognizes these CONSEQUENCES, his eyes are also opened to the flawed perspective through which he has been viewing life. (SLIDE) He has been measuring people and events in terms of a cost-benefit analysis – whether or not there is profit to be gained; but he realizes this kind of measurement is flawed because in the end it only measures monetary value.  Scrooge sees that in the end, financial value doesn’t last and can’t compete with joy, laughter, friendship, loyalty and love.

Now we come to the last and most frightening of all – the Ghost of Christmas Past.  This spirit stands before Scrooge as a spectral image reminiscent of Death, the Grim Reaper itself.  Dickens describes it this way:

In the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.  It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of its visible save one outstretched hand.  But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

With the coming of this shadowy being, Scrooge must face the ultimate consequence for what he has done with his life – JUDGMENT.  As with his previous encounters with the other two ghosts, Scrooge must face the folly of his own, miserable, wasted life.  At the same time, he must also recognize the folly of humanity’s preoccupation with wealth and gain while ignoring the needs and misery of those around them.  This dark, foreboding Ghost forces Scrooge to see a future that has been shaped largely by the choices he has made in his life as well as by the darkest of humanity’s characteristics like greed, pride and selfishness.

To be clear, in the future Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses, he is dead. He does not realize this at first, but to the reader of the story it is obvious.  As the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come moves Scrooge from one location to another, they observe a variety of people who are all reacting to the death of an unnamed individual, an individual who seems to have been quite disliked and even hated by all who knew him.  Scrooge seems puzzled at a man being so disliked even in death, all the while being ignorant that HE is that man.

First, Scrooge witnesses some of his business associates standing on the corner in the business district, discussing whether or not any of them are planning on attending the funeral of a person they all seem to have known in one capacity or another.  None seem the least bit upset about this recent death.  In fact, none of them have any intention of going to the impending funeral unless lunch is served.  No grief.  No regret over unsaid good-byes.  Only a desire for free food.

Next Scrooge visits a local pawn broker of sorts (more like a fence for stolen property) where various thieves present items that they have stolen from the room of the same dead individual. One after another they present their purloined articles including the sheets and blankets off his bed and the extremely fine silk shirt that the body had been laid out in.  In fact, one of those who are in the process of selling off stolen items is Scrooge’s own maid.  So much for loyalty!  And again, there is no grief, no sorrow, not even pity for the dead man.  Just the desire to make a few bucks.

But still Scrooge does not realize that he is witnessing activities related to his own death.

Thus far in his time with Christmas Future, Scrooge has been shown very little sentimentality connected to the demise of this unnamed individual.  Nobody feels the least bit of sorrow or remorse over his passing.  Judging the worth and value of this man’s life appears easy.  In the monetary scale of things, this anonymous person was worth about two cents and he is given about that much consideration.  Nothing to get worked up about and not really a reason to grieve.  Just a very tiny blip on the great big radar screen of life.

Distraught at the fact that nobody seems to be feeling a sense of emotion about the death of this unknown person, Scrooge implores the Ghost to take him someplace where real, heartfelt emotion can be viewed.

“If there is any person in the town who feels emotion caused by this man’s death, show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you!”

The Ghost does indeed heed Scrooge’s request and takes him to a poor flat where a young woman sits dejectedly holding her infant daughter, waiting for the return of her husband.  The husband enters with news that the wife fears to hear, news regarding their loan to a local money lender; but rather than delivering the bad news she was expecting, the husband surprises her.  He delivers the good news that the man who held their loan and who was standing ready to deliver them to the debtor’s prison – this individual has died and thus they have been given a reprieve (at least for the time being).  Because of the death of this man, the family will remain intact.

HERE is the emotion that Scrooge asked to see.  He asked the Ghost if there was anyone in town who felt genuine emotion caused by the death of this person.  He got to see genuine emotion!  Of course, needless to say it is not the exact emotion he was expecting.  Where he expected to find grief, he finds something different– happiness and relief!  Appalled that anyone in the world would feel joy at the death of someone else, he asks that the Ghost show him some proof of tenderness connected to death, to take him somewhere that death has occurred where people actually grieve on this day.

With that, he ends up in the last place he expected – back in the home of Bob Cratchit and his family.  But rather than mourning over the death of the anonymous man whom we know to be Scrooge, the Cratchits are grieving the death of their very own Tiny Tim who appears to have died on the same night as Scrooge.  The heart-wrenching scene that unfolds in front of Scrooge begins to strip away the last vestiges of resistance that his poor excuse for a heart can put up.  That which the Ghost of Christmas Present predicted – an empty corner by the fireplace and a crutch with no owner – has come to pass.

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While Bob is a devoted family man who dearly loves his wife and children, it is obvious that he held a special place in his heart for Tiny Tim and this, the death of his youngest, has pushed him nearly to the breaking point.  Poor Bob, broken with grief, cries the deep, wrenching sobs that only a parent who has lost a child can understand.

Ironically, the only tenderness that Scrooge witnesses connected to death on this day is in fact connected to the death of a poor, young boy who in Scrooge’s view deserved no consideration.  Using Scrooge’s equation for evaluating a person’s value – whether or not they carried with them some sort of financial standing in the world – this boy was worthless.  And yet it is revealed that the short life of this young boy brought more light, more joy, and more value to the world than Scrooge could have ever dreamed.  In a very real sense, Tiny Tim’s life is revealed to be priceless, where by comparison Scrooge’s life appears to be the one that is almost worthless. (SLIDE)

What an amazing contrast.  The unnamed man lived a long life but died a sad, lonely man, unloved and unmourned; whereas Tim Cratchit lived a short life but one that affected everyone around him. Tim will be loved and remembered for years and years to come, but poor Ebenezer and the misery he brought with him will be quickly and thankfully forgotten.

And it is here, at the saddest point in this story, that light begins to shine deep into the very dark place that Scrooge calls a heart.  He begins to hope that these shadows of the future can be changed.  Scrooge says to the Ghost:

“Answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?  Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead.  But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”

Scrooge begins to realize that there is hope!  The future he has seen is what MIGHT be, not of a certainty what WILL be.  The HOPE of Christmas begins to break into the dark, cavernous space that passes for Ebenezer’s heart and soul.  Tiny Tim’s death as a young boy is not inevitable.  It can be avoided.  There is HOPE.

And if there is hope for Tim, then there is hope for Scrooge as well.  Ebenezer begins to understand that while a man may be chained, fettered to his life by the choices he has made and by the attitudes he caries with him, this does not HAVE to be so.  A man’s direction can change.  The chains that bind his heart and soul can be severed.  He can be freed to live a changed life, a TRANSFORMED life that will then TRANSFORM the future of all those around him.

This realization is an important step in Scrooge’s journey towards TRANSFORMATION, but the journey is not done yet.  As he realizes that change is possible, Scrooge is forced to acknowledge that HE himself is in need of change.  The Ghost takes Scrooge to a cemetery and bids him to look upon a headstone, and there he sees his own name and realizes that he is the man who has been dead and unmourned.  It was his death that the businessmen barely considered a worthwhile topic of conversation, and it was his death that brought joy to the poor family who owed to him a debt.  And it was his death that was nothing when compared to the death of young Tim Cratchit.

At this he calls out to the Ghost:

“Spirit!  Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?  Good Spirit, Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

He begins to realize that while he might deserve JUDGEMENT for his wretched life, TRANSFORMATION is possible in such a way that the judgment and punishment he deserves are not necessarily foregone conclusions.  Ebenezer’s future does NOT have to be dictated by the events and choices of his past and present.  His future (and the future of those around him including Tiny Tim) can be changed through TRANSFORMATION. This truth drives home like a flaming hot coal dropping into the ice water of his soul.  At this, the end of his long, dark journey, Ebenezer finds hope in REPENTENCE and in the TRANSFORMATION that is available to him though Christmas.

Scrooge has realized the truth of it – that the events he has just witnessed are but shadows of what MIGHT be in the future, but at the same time the events of the future can be changed.  By moving from his past, through his present and into his future, Scrooge has been given a perspective that few of us ever get.

And HERE is the HOPE of TRANSFORMATION, of a life changed from the top down and from the inside out.  The man who began as a tight-fisted, squeezing, covetous old sinner, hard and sharp as flint, declares to the Ghost:

“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!”

The writing on the stone that he refers to is his name on the headstone of his own grave, a solitary headstone that signifies his death as a lonely, unloved man with nobody to mourn him and nobody to care that he is gone.

With that, Scrooge is returned to his life apart from these ghostly visitations.  And just in time because it is Christmas morning

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The effect of the TRANSFORMED life is obvious.  Ebenezer Scrooge has literally been changed from the top down and from the inside out.  Where there was frowning, there are smiles.  Where there was darkness there is light.  Where there was bitterness there is now happiness and laughter.  Where there was once “humbug” there is now “Merry Christmas.”

The glory of the hope of the Christmas story is that the Christ Child comes into a world that is much like Scrooge was dark, sad and angry, chained to sin and despair.  But the Child who comes is called Jesus, which means “God Saves.”  He is also called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”  The Child comes, stepping into human history in the form of a man, and he begins the process of CHANGE.  He begins to point humanity down the road of HOPE towards TRANSFORMATION.

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge, we are not fated to suffer the eternal consequences of our past attitudes or our present actions and mistakes.  We are NOT locked onto a road to destruction without any hope.  Our future is not set in stone.  It is able to be changed and is, in fact, WAITING to be changed.  The power of God effects that change, and that change with the power to transform entered the world in the form of a newborn baby.  Consider these:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:2-7  (NIV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  2 Corinthians 5:17  (ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2  (ESV)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16  (ESV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9  (ESV)

There is hope for our transformation through Christ.  Our lives can be redeemed, literally purchased back, from the lives we have chosen to lead – lives of empty ambition, pursuits of glory and the struggle to gain more and more.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is an allegory of the human soul and of the human condition, highlighting the horrible flaws and shortcomings in one bitter old man so that we are able to recognize similar flaws within ourselves.  It is an allegory that represents the power of change that is available to all of us through the hope of the Christmas story.

Of course, this is not the end of the story for Scrooge and this is not the end of the story for us.  Scrooge has to live out his TRANSFORMED life every day.  I suspect that if Charles Dickens had written about the rest of Scrooge’s life he would have told us about both the good and bad times, about when Scrooge’s old nature might have put in an appearance, about when Scrooge needed to wrestle with his old nature in order for it come under the power of his Christmas TRANSFORMATION once again. (SLIDE)

And isn’t that how it is with us.  We come to the realization that we need Christmas, that we need Christ.  We surrender ourselves to the forgiveness that He offers, forgiveness that offers us a transformed life and  that frees us from our long, heavy, ponderous chains of sin.  We try to live in the Christmas miracle all year long; but we are human and there are times when we fail.  But the beauty of the Christmas story and the HOPE it offers us all is that the TRANSFORMATION is on-going.  Jesus is always there and is always ready to work in our hearts and lives.

And so as we go forward from this Christmas and on into the new year, may we all live out the ending of “A Christmas Carol” when Dickens says of Scrooge,

” He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world 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!”

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