Spirits of Christmas
"You will be haunted," resumed the Ghost, "by Three Spirits."
"Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?" he demanded, in a faltering voice.
"I -- I think I'd rather not," said Scrooge.
"Without their visits," said the Ghost, "you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one."
While Jacob Marley’s ghost promised Scrooge three nights of haunting by the spirits, the spirits did it all in one night – to old Ebenezer’s surprise. Charles Dickens’ classic tale is a remarkable portrait of grace. Through the grace of new life granted to the old miser, he vows to keep Christmas well, and – as the narrator tells us – he did. If the visits of those three spirits were enough to help even that “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner,” then perhaps it might be helpful to us if we ponder the messages of these three Ghosts of Christmas as we come here to celebrate the true meaning of this holiday.
St. Paul starts us off, writing to his friend, St. Titus. The Apostle reminds us that we have been the beneficiaries of amazing grace already, through our baptism. This fact grants us hope in eternal life, but it also means that we are called to a certain way of living too: “He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”
We need to be reminded of this from time to time. Like Jacob Marley, St. Paul appears to us this night to share with us that Christ’s light must continue to shine in us as a sign of our gratitude for the life he gives us.
The Ghost of Christmas Past shares visions of Scrooge’s childhood and youth, and the old man now remembers the pain that he experienced – as well as that which he inflicted on others close to him. He feels remorse and is haunted by it. It is hard to look back, especially when we are not particularly proud of what we see. Regret is difficult, guilt is worse, but it is necessary for us if we are to take the next step, which leads us toward reconciliation.
The first of our spirits tonight appears: Isaiah. Yes, we are the “people who walked in darkness.” Our sins and our ignorance of God’s will in our lives, as well as the hurt that they have brought to us and to others, are staring at us out of that darkness. However, Isaiah reminds us that even though we might have dwelt in that darkness once, it is not so now. We “have seen a great light.” All that has burdened and oppressed us has been destroyed, because “a child is born to us, a son is given us!”
This child is the reason we are here now. He is the newborn king who is our salvation when we turn to him. In this child the very power of God is revealed. So we must not be afraid of the ghosts of our past, for they can now lead us to that forgiveness that God waits to give.
As the great Ghost of Christmas Present looms above Scrooge, he calls him close and charges his to “Look upon me, Man! Know me better!” In their travels, he shows Scrooge what is happening in the world around him – a world that he has largely ignored. The lives of his clerk, Bob Crachit, and his nephew’s family are full of life and joy – joy which Scrooge has never truly felt. The old miser has been too long turned in on himself. The Ghost’s call to “Look!” is more than simple conversation. It is the call that we hear in the familiar carol, “Adeste, Fideles,” which literally translated means “Be present, O faithful ones!”
The second of our spirits are numerous. They are the angels who appear to the shepherds – and to us. They do not look back; they do not pine for the future. They are completely present, because this is where God is. God is now. Therefore, their message is one of peace and comfort: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
“Be present, shepherds!” Be present, friends, and see what is around us. God is at work, and we are welcomed to share in that work. But we must be aware. The Ghost, before leaving Scrooge, shows him the result of mankind’s neglect of one another: Ignorance and Want. They cling to the spirit and grab for what they can, since no one will help them. To counter this ignorance and want in our world, we must learn to be present – to look – to see.
The Ghost of Christmas Future takes Scrooge through the dark shadows of what might be. The old man sees his end: a lonely, meaningless death. This spirit brings us fear. That is the scary part of the future - the uncertainty, the doubt. As we look ahead in life, there are many things that are uncertain: "Will I marry?" "Will I be successful?" "Will my children be safe and good?" "Will I be healthy?" All of the questions create a bit of fear in our lives, but ultimately they are about the meaning that is attached to our lives. "Does it all have a point?" "Am I involved in that point?"
Scrooge is truly haunted because he does not see meaning in his death. He does not see how his life leads to any sense of meaning for him either. The utterly meaningless death that he sees for himself is the true wake-up call for him. Our meaning does not come from our wealth or our occupations. It does not come from possessions or stories about who we think we are. Rather, as Christians - as true disciples of Christ - our meaning comes from that relationship that begins with our Baptism. This relationship carries with it a promise: Eternal Life!
The remedy for the fear and doubt that the future can carry is faith. Jesus is the center of that faith, and through it we come to see meaning in even the most insignificant things in our lives. Jesus is the reason - not only for this season - but for us. Period.
And so, we leave Mr. Scrooge, who has now been transformed by his experience. Hopefully, we too are transformed by being here in this place, by the presence of the child who is the Prince of Peace. Now, we are sent forth to keep Christmas, and to keep it well. Dickens tells us that "it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"