It’s a dark and drizzly day in central PA. like rural England, as I recall. I traveled around there in the winter of 1973. I was 17 years old and hoping to magically regain my first girlfriend whose family had moved there six months earlier. Funny how one thing connects to another despite the time and multitude of differences in between them. It was a memorable experience in my life, maybe one of the top ten, like hitching across the U.S. I lost my high school ring there and a cool wool hat that my father had brought home from WWII. I also left a leather bomber jacket and a leather belt with my buddy Rob in London. My memories are foggy, though, and not entirely reliable as I spent a good bit of time in the pubs there….
Here, just being inside and dry and fed feels like an accomplishment today. A Sunday nap would be like whipped cream on a …well, a sundae. Quiet too, so quiet I could hear a mouse in the wall if we had mice, which we don’t. We used to have them at this time of year. When the outside temperatures dropped, the boogers would find cracks and crevices to squeeze through so that they could enjoy the warm, dry foodstuffs of my house. Over time I have plugged those holes and cracks near the plumbing pipes. Still, I remember the quick scratchy sound of their claws skittering across the drywall ceiling of our finished basement. It’s creepy to know rodents are a half inch beyond your reach and there’s little you can do about it at that moment.
Our church had its Christmas program yesterday. It was mostly lovely with a wide variety of musical styles including a jazz brass section. Nice, yes, but I am the type of guy who slowly warms up to Christmas. I’d prefer one week before and one week after as the entirety of the Christmas season. Really, if your birthday lasted a month or more, wouldn’t you tire of it? Now I am not suggesting that Jesus gets tired of His birthday celebration; however, like Scrooge learned in A Christmas Carol, it must be lived every day in one’s heart not on your sleeve for a month. And what would that look like?
Can you imagine getting up tomorrow with new eyes that look for the lost, the hungry, the destitute and a new heart that longs to meet the needs of these folks? It’s a bit daunting just to think of it. How would I treat my family differently? How would I drive? Once I arrived at work, how would I interact with the people in my daily life? How would I spend the money I earned? And what would be different when I arrived home each night…if I kept the Spirit of Christmas in my heart?
What exactly is the Spirit of Christmas? Well, it’s the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, birthed 50 days after His resurrection which occurred 3 days after His crucifixion. Wow! That’s a mouthful that is much harder to chew than a Victorian goose with plum pudding. Dickens focused on one man’s change of heart, an old miser who was bitter about the hurts in his life. His business partner Marley, chained to his misdeeds and a money box, haunted him to warn him about the visions to come, sort of like prophets in the Old Testament warned the Israelites about the doom that awaited them if they turned away from God. Scrooge blew it off as some sort of bad dream caused by indigestion. But the visions came as predicted. Ditto for the Israelites.
Christmas Past made a melancholy impression on Scrooge. He longed for his sister and his fiancée and his early workplace attachments. Life was good and vibrant then…and he began to chain himself to money. He grew proud and distant, insulated from want and need by money. His security blanket grew so large and heavy that he could barely move under its weight. Over time he had no relationships, no friends, and no compassion. Just a ball and chain of gold to soothe his lonely soul. Charity and friendship were extravagances that an industrious man like Scrooge would not indulge in. He felt his taxes should cover the cost of the poor and miserable and feeble and helpless. Sound familiar? He was a one per center.
Christmas Present was a jolly soul full of food and light and glory. He was a traveling party master who showed Scrooge what he was missing in the moment. Scrooge cringed a bit at his nephew’s party where he was mocked and at Bob Cratchit’s where he was reviled…but not enough to move him away from his bitterness and the golden coffin he had built around himself. Before he left, however, Christmas Present showed Scrooge the orphans beneath his robe– Want and Ignorance. “Beware!” he said as he exited.
Again, Scrooge was unmoved. He patted himself down, reassured himself with familiar platitudes. Why, he was an engine of commerce. He provided jobs for others. He paid his taxes. Sound familiar? When we look at serving humanity in the least possible manner, we begin the body count of acceptable losses. Who needs to help sex offenders or drug addicts? Welfare moms and illegal immigrants? Aren’t they expendable or less than the hardworking, law abiding men and women of America who got here first and feathered their nests? Why help the next generation when you believe in the myth of your own self sufficiency? Now that the government has educated and protected and inspected me into a comfortable lifestyle, why should I care one whit about the next guy and his family? I got mine, man.
Christmas Future is a scary dude. His visions are grim, though they are the logical outcome of Scrooge’s trajectory at that point. He sees that no one will mourn him. His goods, which had become his God, will remain for others to use as they mock him. He leaves no heir, but his legacy will be bitter as wormwood. His own tombstone finally gets his attention. Really? Isn’t one’s mortality a daily reality? Not if you are detached, out of fellowship, contemplating only your self-centered desires. Contemplating the end of one’s existence is a tough abstraction that requires help from others who function as talking mirrors. But if you get rid of all the contradicting mirrors in your life, you can fool yourself into thinking you are immortal.
As you know, Ebenezer Scrooge’s heart was transformed that Christmas Eve. Love came into his desolate heart and the outcome was a stream of compassionate acts. Indeed, love and attachment and fellowship became the new normal for the old man. And that is what the Holy Spirit is all about– transforming bereft lives with love every day. No matter who you are, whatever per cent you are, the God of this universe is still looking for room in your heart. I pray that you will let Him in.