R is for Redemption
Near the beginning of “A Christmas Carol,” we find Ebenezer Scrooge rebuffing his nephew’s attempt to invite him to Christmas dinner. After humbugging his nephew for having the audacity to wish him a Merry Christmas, Scrooge says, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” When his nephew protests that Scrooge doesn’t keep Christmas at all, the bitter old soul snaps back: “Let me leave it alone, then. Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”
At which point the nephew gives such a speech that it earns applause from shivering Bob Cratchit in the outer room:
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “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 that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Dickens shows us the class distinctions of old England, the sense of superiority that led the rich to think of the poor as being ‘below them’ – an attitude that is not just about money but has to do with ideas about human worth and dignity. We may think that we have grown beyond those outmoded ideas, but I hear something disturbing in our contemporary social discourse, as we think of ourselves as more virtuous than our forebears for having done away with the Treadmill and Poor Law, while still clinging to old stereotypes about those who live in poverty—not to mention the frequent assumption that ‘we’ know what’s best for ‘them.’ At least Scrooge was honest about his scorn for those ‘below’ him.
But let’s put more coal in the stove and remember that this story has a happy ending. We are not accustomed to thinking of ghosts as angels, but since angel simply means ‘messenger’ in Greek, that’s exactly what I would propose. Their message to Scrooge is a divine intervention, awakening him not only to the emptiness of the life he is living but also to the true meaning of compassion. It will be his redemption, as it will redeem all who embrace it.
Now to the Lord sing praises, All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas doth bring redeeming grace.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy!
The illustration is from:
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
By CHARLES DICKENS
ILLUSTRATED BY GEORGE ALFRED WILLIAMS
New York THE PLATT & PECK CO.
Copyright, 1905, by The Baker & Taylor Company