Good things come in small packages. In fifth grade I learned that lesson the hard way. The biggest package under our Christmas tree had my name on it. Actually, the box was so big that it couldn’t fit under the tree. For days on end I wondered about its contents. All eyes were on me as I opened the box only to find a guitar, not exactly what I wanted. And with the guitar came guitar lessons, really not what I wanted.
If good things come in small packages, best things don’t come in packages at all. In Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge learned that lesson the hard way. It was the best of his life. It could be of ours, too.
Scrooge was a wealthy man, a wealth he and deceased partner Jacob Marley amassed by draining every last shilling from poor folk forced to beg for loans. Scrooge was as cold as stone. A snowflake wouldn’t melt on his tongue. But more than cold, he was bitter. Scrooge preferred that the poor just die and reduce the surplus population. Giving clerk Bob Cratchit a day off for Christmas was like having his pocket picked. For Scrooge, Christmas was a lot of humbug. Bah, humbug!
At least it was until a very unsettling Christmas Eve visit from none other than Marley’s ghost. Covered with chains and the baggage of his life, Marley’s ghost was condemned to a tormented walk of eternal remorse. It warned Scrooge that his fate would be the same unless he changed. And that would require visits from perhaps the three most famous spirits in all literature.
God’s gift of memory is a most bittersweet gift. For Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past was just that. Scrooge felt the joy of recounting familiar times, people, and places. He sobbed to remember times of neglect and mistreatment. But most difficult of all for Scrooge was reliving a love lost, a love grown cold because Scrooge had created a false god for himself. He could not bear the thought of his foolishness.
Next came the Ghost of Christmas Present, a short-lived spirit who showed Scrooge the delicious sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas. Scrooge witnessed in everyday people a richness he had never possessed. Even sickly and crippled Tiny Tim Cratchit found reason to ask God’s blessings on all. But the Ghost was not all sweetness and light. At the end of its time, the Ghost revealed two children to Scrooge. Their appearance was hideous. “They are Man’s,” the Ghost said, and they foretold doom unless things changed. Scared as he was, Scrooge knew that he had to see more.
A faceless hooded Phantom, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, showed him. Scrooge saw in his future a legacy of disgrace and an eternity of regret. But in his horror, Scrooge asked the right question: what if he changed his ways? And in Dickens’ delightful ending, he gives us the answer.
A Christmas Carol is a beloved Christmas story. But first, it is an Advent story. Scrooge was given the best gift of his life: a one-night Advent. It was Scrooge’s chance to honestly see his life and to change. It is the same gift given to us every year as we hear St. John the Baptist, the voice in the desert, heralding our need to change. If we are to succeed we, too, must enter the stories of our lives.
Looking back, we can see our wrong turn. Like Scrooge, we created a false idol, the god of self. Whether about fame, money, power or whatever, life became a whole lot about self-fulfillment, self-promotion, and self-absorption. In 1973, we even legalized the killing of the unborn as a cultural sacrifice to our false god.
It is a mistake that haunts us to this day. Dickens reminds us that the joy of Christmas is for everyone. So is the joy of life. In God’s Creation, there are no unwanted children. But Dickens also reminded us of a grave social illness. Those two children whom the Christmas Spirit revealed to Scrooge were not just poor. Dickens described them as looking like monsters “pulled into shreds.” For the readers of Dickens’ day, that description was figurative. For us, it is literal. Almost 50 million unborn have been shredded. Discarded body parts are often sold for profit, even used in cosmetics. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said that abortion has deformed our nation. With all his skills, Dickens could not have said it better.
Where are we headed? We just need to fast-forward our lives and imagine how God will view our ungodliness. Can we look at what we have done to the unborn and not know what will happen? Can we pretend that we will stand before God and somehow explain it all away? Can we feel the weight of Marley’s chains? We must never forget that our God is a God of justice.
Yet there is good news, too. Long ago, two people filled with self took a sinful turn. We’ve been doing the same thing ever since. But an incredibly loving God gave them, and us, a second chance. It was a chance proclaimed in the wilderness by St. John, a chance born to us as a child. A Child Who will return in glory and judgment.
With his second chance, Scrooge changed his life and saved his soul. With our chance, may we as Church and culture do likewise. Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas! God bless us every one!
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they are raising their six kids.
© Paul V. Esposito 2009. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Comments? Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com/