RANDY HUFF: The Real Meaning of Scrooge

This season I’ve seen folks poke fun at predictable Christmas movie plot lines: man-returns-to-boyhood-home-in-December-to-find-his-high-school-sweetheart-still-elusive-but-they-fall-in-love-by-Christmas-Eve, or something like that. I thought of it when we watched A Christmas Carol but decided anyone who scoffs at this story needs to audition for the role of Scrooge himself.

I’m a softy, always have been. Anne of Green Gables and It’s a Wonderful Life bring on the tears – why wouldn’t they?! I can’t help myself with basic story lines in Christian-themed movies like Slaying the Giants. The best stories touch something deep in the human spirit.

The famous 1984 version of Dickens’ classic, starring George C. Scott, does this for me. It reminds me what matters and how there’s a bit of Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and his wife, the nephew, and hopefully Tiny Tim in all of us. Happily it also says we can leave off the bad and learn to live in the good.

There’s a range of emotion in the story, perhaps most poignant in echoing Burns’ famous call to see ourselves as we are seen. And it goes deeper to echo Whittier’s “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” What was my life and what might it have been? That’s what the three spirits throw before Scrooge, with no mercy. When Scrooge feels sorry that Tiny Tim may die the spirit reminds him how he spoke of the poor: “May they die and thus reduce the surplus population.”

But the theme that always touches my soul is that of a second chance, the thing that Scrooge cried out for when the ghost showed him his grave. “Are the things you have shown me…the things that will be?” he asked. “Or how they may be only? Say that I may change these things by an altered life!” He is desperate for a change, he doesn’t like the trajectory he sees, and he promises better. Nay, he promises to totally change his life.

This truth is both great and gloomy. We’ve all seen the drunk make promises and retreat in his soul before his oath is silent. And we’ve seen folks so chained by habit there seems no hope. But we’ve also seen redemption, lives made new, people self-destructing who somehow see the light, turn from their lost way, and build a beautiful life. This is the hope that springs eternal and Dickens’ story helps keep it alive, as all good stories must.

I happen to be a pastor and we too often deal in easy platitudes. There are none here. The touch of God is real, as is repentance, but words are cheap and it is the life change that we long to see. A friend of mine used to drink all the time and it was ruining his life. When he ‘got religion’ he gave it all up. “What did your friends say about that,” I asked him. “They said I must have really met God.”

Indeed. Something other-wordly is required. For Scrooge it was the three spirits who showed him the truth and persuaded him to repent, and that’s what he did. He begged for a second chance – for mercy – and he threw himself into the task of a new life.

Christmas is the ultimate other-worldy plot line, very like incarnation/redemption stories embedded in cultures for millenia. And this fact, so far from diminishing the truth of Christmas, suggests it makes real the greatest possible hope, that something from outside this world would save us from ourselves. The Gospel tells us this blessed hope is Christ Himself, the Babe in a manger, the God-man and thus the only real hope for you and me.

But the life is in the living. What Scrooge-like behavior is turning your priorities backward, hurting your family, leading you toward regret rather than reward? By what are you bound? I have found a faith-becoming-sight in trusting Christ, not just for eternal salvation, but for the being-saved in everyday living. In this I am learning what Scrooge learned. What was does not have to determine what will be. There is mercy and hope in Christ.

So I don’t look down on Scrooge. I say “thank you Mr. Dickens” for the timeless story line that speaks right where I live, and gives me hope.

– Randy Huff

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