Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Charles Dickens was not a Lutheran.

It's a classic novel. The one-time English major in me loves the novel for its literary value. The story has been adapted into stage plays and movies. It is a beloved tale of Christmas redemption. In fact, it may be, outside of Luke 2 and maybe A Charlie Brown Christmas, the most popular Christmas tale of all time. Yet A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is not a Lutheran story.

Ebenezer Scrooge begins the story as an exemplary picture of the Old Adam. Dickens describes him in this way: "Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!" That is the permanent state of the unbaptized, and Dickens captures it perfectly.

You know the story. Marley, Scrooge's deceased business partner, doomed to wander the earth as a ghost in chains for his own avarice and disdain for mankind, appears to Scrooge to warn him of his similar impending doom, should Scrooge not change his ways. He then offers Scrooge the opportunity for redemption through the visits of three spirits--the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future--who will guide him along the path of personal redemption. 

By the end of the story, Scrooge has become a new man. "'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!' Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. 'The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!'" It is a beautiful tale of redemption.

It is beautiful, except for one thing: redemption does not happen that way. The three spirits preach the Law to Scrooge. The Law does not save people. Hearing that he is a sinner, a man can either acknowledge that he is a sinner or he can deny it. He cannot fix it. Man can try to redeem himself. He can try, but he fails. He cannot perfectly live as the Law demands. He can be told to say, "Please," and, "Thank you;" he can be told to behave well toward others. It does not come naturally to him.

But that's what Christmas is all about: redeeming the sinner. It is not the Law which redeems a man. It is Jesus who redeems man. This is Jesus, Immanuel, God in flesh made manifest, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Lamb who would sacrificed as the blood-price to redeem sinners. None of the spirits tells Scrooge, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." As Linus might say, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charles Dickens."

I don't mean to be a wet blanket or dampen your Christmas joy. Enjoy the story of "A Christmas Carol." I do. But like Scrooge did after he ordered the turkey for the Cratchit family, go to church and hear the real Christmas story, the real story of redemption. Hear the word of Holy Absolution. Receive absolution on your tongue in the body and blood of Jesus. It is the first and best Christmas gift: full pardon, full redemption, given to you freely, given from and in the person of Jesus Christ. 

A blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours from me and mine! "God bless us, every one!"

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