There are a great number of books that most everyone should probably read at some point in their life. Within that number, there is a handful that everyone should definitely read in their life, and the sooner, the better. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is such a book. Perhaps you think that I am late to the party, and I likely am. But if you haven’t picked up a copy and read it for yourself, I encourage you to do so this Christmastime. You will be glad that you did.
I hated Dickens’ writing before this. I really did. I am not sure that I will love the rest of his work after this, but perhaps I can enjoy it more knowing that not everything he writes is Great Expectations, my introduction to Dickens. That was a long, dreary book that I should probably appreciate more but struggle to even vaguely like. A Christmas Carol was not like this. Dickens is witty, his writing creative, intense, suspenseful, and humorous. Even the fact that he broke this book up into staves instead of chapters was clever. And reading (especially out loud) added a depth to the narrative and characters, ethereal though they may be, that I think is often missed in visual depictions of this story.
If you have never read anything by him before, read A Christmas Carol first and foremost. If you have and were disenchanted by his other writing as I was, read this one now. It won’t take you long to finish, and you will realize that, no, it is for good reason Dickens is considered one of the greats, and his writing is actually quite profound. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this book. I suppose somewhere along the way, I convinced myself I knew the story and either had already read it or didn’t need to. How wrong I was on both counts. And how glad I am that I read this classic out loud with my daughter!
You also, if you’ve never read the story, probably think you know the story as well. You might even say this is the story about an evil, greedy man who hates everyone and Christmas and is visited by four ghosts that scare him into being generous. I suppose that is a simple summary, but it is hardly complete (and I might argue that it is inaccurate). This is a story of Law and Gospel. This is a story of a man being reborn, struggling with the flesh and the Spirit. This is a story of family, compassion, neighbors, and repentance. This is a story of wanting to bless those around you for no other reason than because you have been blessed! To look at this story as one merely telling greedy people to be generous would be to miss the central point. That story would be all Law. There would be no hope in that story. Instead, this is a story of contrition, repentance, reconciliation, and renewal. This is the story of the Gospel working in someone who was separate from Christ. This was someone who had no reason to love, or be kind, or care for others. This was a man walking in darkness, and now he has seen the Light!
He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.A Christmas Carol, Stave 5
Scrooge was a lonely, selfish man. Dickens even includes the biblical message that he won’t even get to enjoy his wealth, the punishment of the greedy (Luk. 12:16-21). The problem is not that he is wealthy, but that he doesn’t care for his fellow man. Scrooge is self-centered, focused inward and on material things. He doesn’t even enjoy his wealth himself. He simply hordes it for moth and rust to destroy.
Thankfully, he was not left to his doom. This is a message to us as well, to wake us up out of our stupor. We were not left to our destruction either. Scrooge’s perspective on life, others, and himself change when the three ghosts force him to see his life and the world as it actually is – material and spiritual. But he gets to see life not just through other’s eyes but through his own. You can see how he allowed avarice to become his god, not just money itself. This was a spiritual change that happened in Scrooge. What reason did he have to give before? The government had programs in place to care for the poor. He paid his worker. He didn’t ask anything from society. For what reason did he have to give? He did not see himself as a man in need of saving, thus not seeing himself as a tool to save. But by the end, he learns that it is better to give, he learns why people give, he learns the real reason we gather with family and friends and why we can find joy in life. Scrooge learns what life is about and what gives it meaning.
It is not just that Scrooge was stingy but that he had no joy in his life. But after Scrooge struggles with the Spirit, his life is transformed. He is hit over the head with the Law because he refused to hear the Gospel. He is the one who refused to have joy and love and friendship in his life, so he enjoyed none of the material blessings either. Scrooge now laughs, now gives, now smiles, now enjoys the presence of others and sees them as people and not a statistic. He goes to church; he has joy and wants to share that with others. He has a new life, an actual life, and wants to share in life with those around him. Looking at this story merely as of a greedy man who is scared into giving his stuff away is not only simplistic but misses the greater point. And I think that point is best made in the actual text.
I can hardly give this book higher praise. If there was ever the Law and Gospel in fiction, it is in this book. I feel as though I also see Christmas in a new way. In many ways, it is because of the time that Dickens wrote in, and because of Dickens’ writing, that we celebrate Christmas the way we do. Few books have had such a significant impact on culture. We now think of Christmas as a time of family, friendship, and compassion, a time to care for the needs of others, to give gifts that cannot be returned. Obviously, this is rooted in Christ’s compassion for us, giving all things to us before we knew to ask, giving us life eternal while we were dead. This is, in part, the message of A Christmas Carol.
There is little wonder why this book has become a classic or why this is a favorite to read at Christmastime. This brief book will be a quick read, but don’t let its message slip by you. Find yourself a copy, gather your family together, and read this short tale of a man who found his Help and a new life on the night before Christmas.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig