Christmas is now less than two weeks away. And I for one cannot believe how quickly it has come! For many of us, the season is one of the busiest times of the year. For me the time has flown in part due to preparation for our Chapel’s Christmas Program, a night of celebration called JOY… More on that in a minute!
This busyness tends to go with the season. We often hear complaints about missing the “true meaning” of Christmas (read: Jesus) because the holiday has been hijacked by a lot of secular traditions–spending time with family, throwing parties, giving gifts, eating tons of food, etc. Not untrue. Christmas has a lot more associated with it as a holiday than just a celebration of the birth of Jesus. There are many reasons for that, but there is one that many may not consider…
In the western world, our current secular take on Christmas owes much of its rise to prominence to one man: Charles Dickens, author of the beloved classic A Christmas Carol. Here is what I mean: Dickens, who was a known critic of religion, wished to reimagine and redefine the spirit of Christmas around positive secular (or not uniquely Christian) themes like family, giving to the needy (Dickens was also a huge social activist regarding the state of poverty and the plight of impoverished children working in factories), festive merrymaking, and appreciation for life’s simple pleasures. His goal was to make Christmas accessible to all as well as raise a level of nostalgia for a traditional old English Christmas, which was being threatened by the industrial revolution. It worked too. His values, now imortalized through countless adaptations (the work is in the public domain), play a huge role in society’s understanding of the “true” meaning of Christmas.
And we all know the story of his novella. If you have never read it, you have seen it in one version or another, from the definitive 1951 film version, Disney’s cartoon with Mickey and Ducktales’ Scrooge McDuck, the Muppet one, or the most recent CG interpretation featuring a motion-captured Jimmy Carrey as its protagonist. Each depicts the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a joyless, horrible man with no love for his fellow man, no desire to share any of his immense wealth or spend time with his family. If ever there was a man who did not know how to appreciate life and its simple pleasures, it is the character of Scrooge. We all know what happens. He is visited by three ghosts who magically show him his past present and future, with each journey slowly softening his heart until Scrooge sees the error of ways and emerges a changed man.
I *love* this story. I will pretty much watch any version. Liam has probably watched the Mickey version half a dozen times already this year. When things settle down tomorrow after rehearsals, I am planning on watching a new version on Amazon Prime with Patric Stewart as Scrooge. Can’t wait!
Here is why I love it: Scrooge completely transforms. Though Dickens was not a Christian, he portrays well a crucial part of the Christian’s journey–transformation at a heart level, which brings about repentance. But it is not just repentance as in a change in behavior. It is motivated by newfound joy that he has realized the truth and can now live in that reality! Dickens’ surprisingly Judeo-Christian values are instilled into his character basically by a supernatural experience that uniquely changes his heart. So, while Dickens clearly wrote a secular Christmas story, glimpses of God’s truth still appear.
Joy of Every Longing Heart
This past Sunday, we shared with our congregation one of the songs from our upcoming Christmas event called “Joy of Every Longing Heart.” I want to reiterate what I said then. Those of us who have trusted Christ have seen the truth; the truth that our hearts are all empty and are longing to be filled with something. Hope… peace… joy! We know this world is broken. It doesn’t work the way it should, and our own lives reveal it to be true. But we have found the answer. We have found hope, peace, and joy in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ! And by his grace, we have been transformed to live in a new reality.
Here is the sticking point though: We forget. We miss it. We lose the joy. We are like the man James warns us about who sees his face in the mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like (James 1:23-24). We’ve heard the truth, but our attitudes and actions don’t reflect it. I am there too. My life doesn’t look the way it should. I wanna be like Scrooge at the end of the story. Compassionate. Giving. Joyful. Sometimes I am more like how he is at the beginning. Often I am like Scrooge in the middle. Torn between the truth and the way I want to live my life.
Music helps me. I think it helps a lot of us. God’s word helps me. I know it can help all of us who struggle to find the joy. Make no mistake though, whether you feel joyful or not, there is much to celebrate when it comes to Christmas. The stories are true. They really did happen. Jesus came for us! He rescued us! He made us whole. So the Chapel Worship Staff, our teams, and the choir have created a way for us to respond.
So lets be joyful.