With these famous lines from the beginning of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens goes to great pain to repeat and make clear that a man is dead. The reason for his insistence will become clear in just a few pages when this same man, who was “as dead as a door-nail,” appears seemingly alive again and talking with Scrooge in his bedroom. A wonder indeed!
After the story of Christmas related in St. Luke’s gospel tonight, perhaps the second best known story of Christmas in English is the story of “A Christmas Carol.” Just the name Scrooge brings to mind one of the greatest Christmas villains of all time. In a spiritual sense, we could say that Scrooge too was “dead… as dead as a door-nail” or at least close. Yet, at the heart of this timeless story is conversion, redemption and mercy. As we celebrate Christmas this year in the Jubilee of Mercy, I see three key lessons from the story of Scrooge that can benefit all of us.
1 ) Scrooge was bad and he didn’t hide it. He didn’t try to fake it, pretending to be a good person. He hated Christmas and everyone knew it. Like Marley who was repeatedly said to be dead…before he was alive again…we have to acknowledge where we are dead. We have to acknowledge how bad things really are in certain areas. Recognizing our fallenness and need for mercy is the critical first step, “or nothing wonderful can come of the story” God is going to work in our lives. Scrooge was not so good and, in many ways, neither are we. That is the truth.
2) Scrooge couldn’t save himself. In fact, he didn’t really even know how bad his life had become. This is why Marley was sent to him in the first place, to warn him. In addition to the ghost of Marley, Scrooge is visited by three “spirits” who use the past, present, and future, to help heal him. This is a beautiful example of God’s mercy. Scrooge couldn’t do it on his own and neither can we. Providentially, we too have guardian angel spirits and saints in heaven to intercede and help us. We need to call for help and beg God to visit us with his mercy precisely because we can’t save ourselves.
3) The future can be better than the past or the present. Scrooge finally realizes what his selfishness has done not only to all those around him, but to himself as well. When he has this amazing conversion, his most earnest wish is that his future can be different. This is the greatest gift of God’s mercy: It doesn’t matter what has been our past or what sins presently afflict us. Scrooge is given a new beginning. “Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!” God gives us this same chance each day, and especially during the Year of Mercy. As the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, we really can expect “a future full of hope.”
The Year of Mercy should not be understood as a time to become complacent, thinking that it doesn’t matter how we live, that God will have “mercy” on us. The gift of the Year of Mercy is a special opportunity to experience what Scrooge did, to recognize our need to change, to earnestly beg for the grace of conversion, and then to joyfully write a new story for our future. The time before us is our own. May we all experience the joy of Christmas with a purified and thankful heart just as Scrooge did.