Scrooge is convinced that he has earned all that he has. His pile of money? It’s all that matters to him, and he believes that he built it all by himself. There’s no reason to show gratitude to anyone else.
Be thankful? Bah, humbug.
Could that be one of the reasons we’ve turned Thanksgiving into just another shopping day? We don’t recognize the gifts, so we don’t recognize the giver.
“Marley was dead, to begin with.”
So begins the classic tale of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a story that has been told and re-told through various mediums since the novella was published December 19, 1843.
I sat down recently to watch the new Disney version of the tale. It features a CGI rendition of Scrooge with the voice of Jim Carrey.
After 15 minutes I shut it off.
It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I didn’t give the movie enough of a chance even to figure whether it was worth watching. What I realized is that I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same story again from a secular perspective.
A Christmas Carol, I would argue, is not ultimately about Christmas, but conversion.
Christmas is the stage and the catalyst through which transformation occurs. It is a leading character to be sure. But, it is the radical change that occurs in Ebenezer Scrooge that most compels me.
It is with death that Dickens begins his story and it is with death that Scrooge completes his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Scrooge hears other businessman saying that they wouldn’t attend the funeral unless there was sure to be lunch served. Men for whom he had great business esteem gave no more thought to his death than they did the weather. There were thieves who stripped the clothes off his dead body and the curtains from around his bed.
He begged the Spirit to show him a scene in which some person, any person, was moved to emotion at his death. The Spirit brought him to the house of a debtor who rejoiced with his wife at the death of Scrooge because now they might have time enough to pay back their loan. When he was shown the Cratchit household there was no mention of Scrooge at all, only mourning for the passing of Tiny Tim.
The Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge a total of five visions. It is only the last two which are dark. The first three show the seeds of Scrooges own repentance.
The first vision shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas past is that of a young Scrooge reading alone, neglected by his peers, just before Christmas. Scrooge, watching his old self, begins to cry.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should have given him something: that’s all.”
The specter of Jacob Marley entered Scrooge’s room. It had been seven years to the day since Marley died.
Before he sees them, Scrooge hears the clanking of the heavy chains his old business partner now carries with him.
Scrooge asks how it is that Marley became thus fettered.
“I wear the chain I forge in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free-will, and of my own free-will I wore it.”
Marley did not realize in life that he was a slave. He assumed that his wealth and the absence of external restraints meant he was free, when in fact his miserly and selfish ways were forging the means of his own bondage.
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!”
An ebenezer is a reminder. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness and our repentance. It is a marker for transformation and conversion.
Dickens, I would assume, did not give Scrooge the first name “Ebenezer” without reason. While the word has fallen out of common use (the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is often sung now with the word “altar” in replace of “ebenezer”) it is still powerful with meaning.
“Ebenezer” is the marker that commemorates the moment that everything changed. In difficult times it is the reminder that what was true at the time of the original change, namely God’s faithfulness, is still true today.