“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
Growing up, I could not wait every year to sit in front of the television and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” These were two of my favorite Christmas specials, and they still are today. As I got a little older, Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” was added to my list. You know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, whom Dickens described as “a squeezing, wrenching grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.”
One Christmas Eve, after eating “his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern,” Scrooge is visited by four ghosts. First, the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, warns Scrooge of the consequences of continuing to live a greedy, self-serving life. This visit is followed by the apparitions of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. The combination of these supernatural visits utterly transforms Scrooge’s cold heart, and it begins to beat warmly for the welfare of others.
You can always find Gospel themes in every story, but Dickens wrote as a professing Christian, and he was clearly intentional about writing his classic tale from a Christian perspective. The title of his story — A Christmas Carol — proves this. A “Christmas carol” is a song celebrating the birth of Christ. Dickens structured his celebration on the foundation of the Gospel themes of sin, salvation and sanctification. He portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge as a sinful, self-centered scoundrel, sitting in his counting house on a frigid Christmas Eve, refusing to allow his shivering clerk, Bob Cratchit, to have even a small shovelful of coal to burn for heat.
The word scrooge means “to squeeze,” and Scrooge squeezed every ounce of value out of everything he owned and everyone he knew. He was a curmudgeonly old miser, refusing to part with even a “farthing” (a single cent) to help his fellow man.
Even his first name, Ebenezer, is wrought with significance. You may be familiar with the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and the lyric, “Here I raise my Ebenezer; here by Thy great help I’ve come.” Eben-Ezer is a location described in 1 Samuel as the scene of battles between the pagan Philistines and God’s people, Israel. The prophet Samuel prayed for God’s protection and deliverance, and God answered his prayer at Eben-Ezer.
“Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mitzpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12).
So to “raise my Ebenezer” is to erect a monument to God’s glory for His deliverance, and to make it known to the watching world that God is our Helper in times of need. In Dicken’s story, the final time the word Ebenezer appears is when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come points to a tombstone, into which the name Ebenezer Scrooge is carved. It could be said that this tombstone might serve as a monument for others, warning them not to follow the path of godless, self-absorbed men like Scrooge and Jacob Marley.
But Dicken’s story does not end in a graveyard. The “gift” of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is the opportunity for Scrooge to repent of his sinful past. Scrooge cries, “The Spirits of [Christmas past, present, and future] shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” The three ghosts have done their work; Ebenezer Scrooge is utterly transformed. Dickens concluded that Scrooge “became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good old world.”
There are many lovely parallels between Dickens’ story and the Gospel, far too many to illustrate here. But I would like to return to one of them, because it seizes my heart every time I read it or see it on screen: Scrooge kneeling, terrified, before the gravestone, realizing for the first time that the wages of sin is death – his death. Judgment is at hand, and Scrooge begs the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, “Tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
I cannot help but think that there will be untold millions of people who will utter a similar plea on the Last Day. The books will be opened, their lives will be judged against the perfect standard of God’s Law, which was etched in stone on Mount Sinai, and the verdict will be pronounced: Guilty. For it is appointed for a man to die once, and then the judgment. There will be no “sponge,” no “Purgatory,” no way to alter their fate, only the grim sentence of eternal death. These lost souls will kneel, terrified, and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and beg that they may sponge away the condemnation etched next to their name . . . to no avail.
God bless us every one
And therein lies the wonder and joy of Christmas morning. “God bless us every one!” Tiny Tim exclaimed, and He did! The sovereign Lord of all the universe left the splendor and majesty of His throne room in heaven and put on flesh, becoming the babe in a manger who grew up to die, so that you and I might live with Him forever.
“Glory to God in the highest,” the heavenly host sang on that first Christmas Day, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Amazing grace, how sweet the sound! I hope your heart is lifted this day by Charles Dickens’ lovely work of fiction; and I pray that your heart will open to accept this amazing, eternal truth: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
From the Boland family to yours: May your Christmas season be filled with the transforming power of the glorious good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“And it was always said of [Scrooge], 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!”
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com. For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.