Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve Ruminations

Ever since I read Great Expectations as a teenager, Charles Dickens has been one of my favorite authors. He has a way of wording things that is just right. Sometimes he waxes a bit verbose and some of his lengthier descriptions wouldn't be harmed by a bit of editing, to be sure; but I feel like many times he speaks (writes) the language of my soul. This was further made clear to me when I had the opportunity to take a class devoted to his novels. That was a happy semester indeed. Today, Christmas Eve, as I was rereading his A Christmas Carol, as per my annual tradition, his authorial preeminence stood out to me yet again as he cut through the fluff and non-essential baggage that comes with Christmas and made clear why we celebrate the holiday and what our Christian duty is as a result of our celebration of the same; for truly there is work to do for all Christians as a result of that which we celebrate this blessed time of year.

The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price teaches us that God's work and purpose is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." God exists to work in our behalf so that we might all have access to that most precious of all gifts: eternal life. He works for mankind and invites us to do the same. Dickens seems to sing the same tune as Marley's ghost, having just been told by Scrooge that he was "a good man of business," bemoans his wasted life by talking about his, and our, true business in life:
"Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!...Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

How often do we stop and realize what our life's "business" really ought to be focused on? In the fast-paced, money-oriented economic world in which we live, how often do we slow down to notice the plight of our fellow men? Do we truly see that we ought to work with God in helping our brothers and sisters realize their eternal potential? How often do we have opportunities to bless the lives of those around us, in even the smallest ways, and we pass on by, unaware of lost opportunities? I realize that I can speak for no one but myself, but I know that I personally can do a lot better in following the light of "that blessed Star" in doing the will of Him whom it represents.

My favorite section of the story comes as Scrooge, the ever-shrewd business man who is constantly focused on the bottom-line and on ascertaining whether any activity or event has the potential to increase his net worth, has just called his nephew a fool for going about on Merry Christmas because doing so has never done anyone any financial good. To this the nephew responds with, to me, the finest treatise on the true meaning of Christmas to be found in all of secular literature:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

The optimism of the nephew gives hope for humanity. And, indeed, as we take time to look about us during the Christmas season we can see that there is an increase in acts of charity, in the familiar sense of the word, and people do seem to do a better job of taking notice of those "fellow-passengers to the grave." (I love that phrase) Just a week or two ago I was discussing this fact with one of my roommates and we decided that while this tendency to be more charitable and loving during the Christmas season is nice, wouldn't it be even better if that sentiment pervaded our lives year-round. As the Ghost of Christmas Present sings in the Muppets' portrayal of Dickens' classic, "It is the season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear. It is the season of the spirit. The message, if we hear it, is make it last all year." Scrooge himself, a redeemed man, says near the end of the story, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." We need to learn to "open our shut-up hearts freely" all year long and be always ready and willing to help those around us in any way possible.

Jesus Christ's birth is the reason for our celebrations of the season. The fact of Jesus' birth, while miraculous in its own right, merely points to the purpose of his life. He lived to serve others. To help the downtrodden. To give hope to those who had none. Ultimately, with His atoning sacrifice He personally created the path that we must all take if we are to obtain to eternal life. Christmas is a celebration of Christ's triumph over death and hell. Christ's triumph gives us all hope for eternal happiness together with Him and His Father as well as with our families and loved ones. Knowledge of Christ's plan of salvation brings such incredible joy and hope. Would we not do well to be ever ready and willing to actively share that hope, "to
give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you"? Christ is the reason. Let's share His light with those poor homes in darkness. I feel like that is what it means to live Christmas well.

1 comment:

  1. You remain on of my favorite peoples, my intellectual angel in the dark, and an awesome example of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ ought to be lived.

    You also take pepper spray like a champ.