Charles Dickens was a genius.
His evaluation of the nature of humankind mixed with an astute understanding of what conversion, repentance, and redemption look like still stands tall as a classic representation of the Christian faith and Christmas itself. But when it comes to the cinematic adaptation of his fine morality play, there is none quite like the faithful version of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge.
For those who have never read or seen the film (or some version of it starring Mickey Mouse or a very animated Jim Carrey), here’s the quick recap: Scrooge is a miser who hates Christmas and all of the trappings that he deems commercial. His life is solely focused on money, to the detriment of relationships and his soul. But after he is visited by four ghosts, led by his dead financial partner Jacob Marley and followed by spirits representing the past, present, and future, he awakes on Christmas morning with a new heart.
This week, while reading the story of the Rich Young Ruler and his interaction with Jesus, I was struck by the way that Scrooge has been the rule-following, checkmark-making kind of person that this young man is. Scrooge doesn’t technically do anything wrong by running his business and his life the way he does; his assumption that those who can’t pay for things should either die or go to jail is a ‘natural’ course. We judge him – and adopt the word ‘scrooge’ into our vernacular – but he is technically playing by the rules as we meet him in the opening vignette.
But Jesus shows up in the life of the rich young ruler, in our lives, and in the life of Scrooge and shows us a way that is not about rules but about grace. Scrooge sees the way his life was shaped by his childhood, the way he is impacting others, and the way that his future will be through the ‘services’ of the ghosts, but it’s his heart that changes, not the laws of commerce and charity. In fact, Scrooge no longer sees his finances or resources as his, but rather loaned to him for the betterment of his community.
Scrooge realizes that his ‘crime’ is withholding help (albeit legally) from those who need it, rather than being gracefully generous as grace had been provided to him.
Unfortunately, the Rich Young Ruler doesn’t get it. His heart isn’t changed immediately. He doesn’t embrace Christ (or Christmas) like a child. And he goes away sad.
My hope for you and me this Christmas is that we would ‘get it,’ that we would see the opportunity to live out generosity every day of the year. We’ve been blessed – and we’re called to be a blessing.