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And so begins Charles Dickens’ tale, A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I have a confession to make.  I’ve seen the play and I’ve watched the 1951 Alistair Sim movie version and (dare I say) the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, but I’ve never read the book.  Until this year. I understand why the beloved story of transformation has become such an embedded part of the Christmas tradition.  However, during my reading, I realized that our depictions of Scrooge’s transformation from a hard-hearted, greedy miser to a joyful, generous philanthropist on Christmas morning are quite shallow.  By keeping the story safely contained in the nostalgia of the Christmas season, we can keep it from truly confronting our own hard-hearted greed.

The parallels between Dickens’ 1840’s London and our own time are striking.  Scrooge was a part of the 1% of his day.  While the few at the top thrived, everyone else just barely survived.  The wealthy elite viewed the unproductive as “surplus population” that needed to be decreased–if by disease or disaster, so be it.  The poor, the jobless and the homeless were a drain on resources.  The solution?  Criminalize and incarcerate.  Sound familiar?

The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge is profound.  He wakes up on Christmas morning not merely happy that he is alive nor with some vague resolution to be nicer to others in the new year.  Through his encounter with the three spirits, he understands the ways in which his classism and narcissism–and the structures of social order–have brought great harm to others.  His transformation is not about becoming more kind, but about becoming more just.  His actions go beyond merely giving a goose to a poor family for Christmas dinner or giving his employee a small Christmas bonus.  His actions are radical.  He gives Bob Cratchet a living wage.  He arranges for family healthcare.  He redistributes his wealth.  He seeks the common good.  We see more than just an attitude adjustment; we see true repentance.  Now humbled, we watch a liberated Scrooge actively participate in the creation of a new community where everyone’s needs are met and everyone shares in the abundance–not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.

I suspect that Dickens wanted to challenge the status quo and suggest that Christmas has the power to transform us–a process which begins with honest reflection and repentance and ends with our becoming a Beloved Community.  This is the transformation we need.  This season, I pray, “Come, Holy Christmas Spirit, and confront us all with who we are and what we will become apart from being filled anew with love for our neighbor–a love that does justice, loves mercy and walks humbly.”

Thoughts from Bruce Ray, Pastor

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