Every year about this time I wrap up my annual read of one of my favorite books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Published in 1843 and set in Victorian England, Dickens’ Christmas ghost story is credited with reviving the celebratory spirit of Christmas that we know today. Since then, time and technology have given us the great gift of being able to take in the story as a movie (Disney’s is the best, trust me), an audiobook, on the stage, and in different languages, providing an ease of consumption that gives you no excuse for not interacting with it immediately!
While Mr. Dickens didn’t intend his famous story to be an allegory of the Gospel, A Christmas Carol is much more than a holiday ghost tale. As St. Augustine said, “truth belongs to the Lord, wherever it is found.” From the very beginning it is easy to see how Scrooge embodies spiritual metamorphosis—like a sinner delivered from darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. The ghosts expose his sin, so to speak. Readers then get to see his closed, contaminated heart slowly transform as love, joy, and grace interact with his past, present, and future.
One of my favorite scenes is early in the story when Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s long-dead business partner, now condemned in death, visits Scrooge to offer him “a chance and hope of escaping my fate.”
Scrooge has spent the day—and his life—dismissing opportunities to love and serve his fellow man. His friend Marley learned too late that, after a life spent chasing after the world, he had pursued the wrong things.
Marley laments, “Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to that poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
If Jesus is your Savior, you will never be a “Marley”—your redemption is complete and salvation assured (John 5:24, 10:28). Unfortunately there are many times I live like the “old man” I was rescued from, and need reminding that I have been completely transformed by the blood of Christ.
I read A Christmas Carol every year for this very reason. And I hope to encourage you to consider picking it up this year. If you need help keeping your focus on Jesus this season, here’s how A Christmas Carol can breathe life into a crazy time of year:
1. First, it reminds me of who I am without Christ. Everyone’s heard of Ebenezer Scrooge. His name is synonymous with anything or anyone who wants to crush the spirit of the season. In the beginning of the story, Dickens describes Scrooge as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”
Here’s how God’s Word describes me apart from Christ in Titus 3:3 (ESV): For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Without Christ and His grace and love, I am no better than this Scrooge Dickens writes about. None of us are.
2. Later in the story, the ghosts arrive. First, Marley comes to warn Scrooge and let him know that he has a second chance, that three spirits are coming to show him a new path. Then he goes on a fantastical journey through his past, present, and future.
And I’m reminded how far God has gone to rescue us. I think of the treasure buried in the field, and the pearl of great price, and the lost sheep, and the lost coin, and that lost son the father ran out to meet; and I rejoice remembering how far Jesus went to rescue me! He came as a helpless human baby, adored by angels and worshipped by kings, to one day be despised by man and afflicted by God, for my sake. And yours too.
John 1:1,14 (KJV): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Romans 5:8 (ESV): God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
3. Finally, it shows me who I am in Christ. The spirits’ messages changed Scrooge, who says at the end: “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been.” The message of the Gospel also transforms us, when we accept it in faith. Unfortunately it’s the “bah, humbug” stingy Scrooge that gets all the attention. But the truth is, his story has a beautiful redemptive ending. The Scrooge at the end of the tale was completely changed after Truth got ahold of his heart.
Titus 3:4-7 (ESV) says, But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Christ-followers can read this 170-year-old Christmas ghost story as a reminder that once we were all Scrooges—self-centered, flesh-gratifying, and in desperate need of a Savior. We can read it to glory in the truth that God’s kindness leads us all—every one—to repentance. We can read it to bask in the lightness and joy Scrooge experienced at the moment of his “salvation”. And we can read it to marvel at the lengths God will go to bring back one lost sheep.
Read A Christmas Carol this year and watch a dead man come to life because of a baby in a manger. Let the truths on each page remind you of who you once were, and who you are now—because of Jesus.
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. —Ephesians 4:22-24, ESV