Several friends and I were sitting around recently talking about our favorite Christmas movie. Some mentioned "A Christmas Story," others "Elf," but we all agreed that "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens had to be the favorite since it seemed to capture the true spirit of Christmas.
Written in a six-week period in October and November of 1843, it was the first of five short Christmas stories that he wanted to publish. Dickens believed that the story would be well-received and it was. It was almost an immediate success and was instrumental in raising people's awareness of poverty. Dickens published it himself and used whatever money he made for charitable contributions to organizations at that time.
"A Christmas Carol" tells the tale of the "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" named Ebenezer Scrooge. In his younger days, Scrooge was a fortunate man with many friends, family, and even a possible wife. Somehow over time, he turned into the person described above with all of Dickens' chilling yet descriptive adjectives. He became a pitiful, bitter old man, a cold-hearted creditor who cared for no one and certainly didn't understand the needs of others; nor did he seem to be aware of why it is that people celebrate Christmas.
On that Christmas Eve as the story begins, it is evening and Scrooge has turned down a sincere invitation from his good-natured nephew Fred to enjoy a Christmas dinner. He sits alone in his home complaining to himself about his aches and pains, probably from something he ate.
Suddenly he is visited by his former partner, Jacob Marley, dead for seven years, whose spirit has been forced to wander without peace, as he died consumed with business and making money but cared nothing for the people around him. He warns Scrooge about his punishment and tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts. Perhaps Marley was trying to save Scrooge from a similar fate.
Scrooge dozes and all of a sudden he is visited by a series of three apparitions who show him what his life was like when he was young, what his life is now, and what his life will become if he continues on the path that he is currently walking.
As we see his transformation take place on Christmas morning and hear his famous words, we feel the joy in him; it makes us smile; and we have a joy in our own hearts. We can use Scrooge's words to experience a transformation of our own.
Scrooge exclaims, "I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year!" Scrooge was contrite and made this promise to God that he would remember this night and would resolve to turn his life around.
An old poem entitled "Post Christmas" by Amy Allen goes like this:
Shall we put away our Christmas
Like a worn, discarded toy.
Away with the tinsel and wrappings,
And forget its deep inner joy?
Replace the merry greeting
That gave so much of cheer,
For a casual word in meeting
With those we hold so dear?
Shall the mantle of "Merry Christmas"
Slip from our souls? Ah, no!
The spirit of love universal
With its warm, sweet, tender glow,
Will bless with a touch assuring
Every day as we work, pray, and plan,
For a "Peace on Earth" that's enduring,
And the brotherhood of man.
On the Dec. 26 morning news one of the "talking heads" burst out with "Can we take all these decorations down now?" I shook my head when I heard that and thought about how many of us Christians celebrate the Christmas season until the Feast of the Epiphany (or what used to be called the Feast of the Three Kings). Normally many Christians wait until that feast day to begin taking down Christmas decorations. Alas, I could not do that this year as I received as a gift two adorable kittens who wreaked havoc on my Christmas tree and all the other ornaments.
Taking down the visible signs of Christmas is one thing, but giving up on Christmas for the rest of the year is another. On Christmas Day my priest reminded us that "Jesus is not the reason for the season" but we are the reason. He came to us to teach us the way to go throughout our lives to keep Christmas by having compassion, love, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit, and sincere respect for those around us. That is our calling for our total life to share our time, talent, and treasure with others.
Sometimes, as Scrooge did, we forget that. We forget that He came and dwelt among us and still dwells among us to this day. We are called to keep Christmas in our hearts every day of the year.
At Crosslines at the Parish House, we strive to treat our neighbors with respect and to help them over the rough times in their lives. You, too, can do this by volunteering your time to others, by sharing the talents that God has given you, and by sharing your treasure with those who are less fortunate. It promises to be a rough winter for our neighbors in need. Please keep the Christmas spirit in your hearts and generously remember those who are in need. God bless you and Happy New Year from all of us at Crosslines.
On the parish calendar:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, Monday.
Officers training sessions. Sunday, Jan. 26, 25 p.m., Bridgeport UMC. Registration 1:30 p.m. "A Practical, How-to Training Event." Brochure available from your pastor or district office.
Charge Conference for Crosslines, Inc./Parish House, Monday, Jan. 27. Dinner at 5 p.m. followed by reports and election of officers for 2014.