The Gospel According to Charles Dickens: Lifting Up the Lowly

By Timothy King 12-24-2011
Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Scrooge calls Christmas a “humbug.”

When his nephew tries to convince him otherwise, Scrooge responds:

“Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

The nephew retorts:

“What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

The nephew concludes with this famous line about the holiday:

“Therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say God bless it!”

One theme throughout Dickens' "Christmas Carol," is the contrast of the rich and poor. Wealth, in this story, doesn’t make it impossible to celebrate Christmas, but it does make it more difficult. Just like for Jesus, wealth doesn’t make it impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven, but it doesn’t help.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, set the tone for the “first” Christmas. In her Magnifcat she sang, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

The reversal wasn’t limited to class. It was bigger and broader than that. The magi coming from the East brought expensive gifts. They were, with little doubt, wealthy. Their arrival as gentiles and outsiders signaled a reversal that was to come.

The Christ child born in Bethlehem would make sure that the first were last and the last were first. Jesus did not come for the healthy but for the sick. Those who thought they were insiders would be left out in the cold if they did not embrace this new reality.

The fact that the manger was “lowly,” was no mistake. Swaddling clothes were not meant for new born king’s, and yet they were the perfect garment for the situation. An unwed virgin carrying God incarnate is nonsensical and yet somehow exactly as it should be.

It is this radical and unexpected nature of the Christmas story that makes the dialogue after Scrooge’s nephew leaves grate against my ears.

Two gentlemen come to Scrooge’s office to take up a collection for the poor so that they may have some “meat and drink, and means of warmth” on Christmas. Scrooge asks them why the needy don’t go to the poorhouses and prisons. One of the men responds that there are some who would rather die than go there.

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

The story of Christmas is a reversal from what we see as the natural order of things. It is an assault against a world in which too often might makes right and only the strong survive. This new set of values subverts an existing order.

It is the light entering the darkness and the promise that the darkness will not overcome it.

Tim King is Communications Director for Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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