Christmas Tree Topper Star–flickr/Creative Commons/Wilson Hui
I recently rewatched the 1984 made-for-television film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famous 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. It was at a movie night that I host for the men at my church. We watch movies and then discuss the issues raised by the films that challenge, encourage, or discourage our journey into becoming the men God calls us to be.
What struck me was a scene early in the film that set the tone for the rest of the story. It’s the first place the ghost of Christmas past took Ebenezer Scrooge—back to a dreary boarding-school classroom where a boy sat alone with his books on Christmas Eve.
Why was he there? And why was he alone?
Ebenezer’s father had sent him to the boarding school because he blamed Ebenezer for the death of his mother. She’d died during childbirth. As an adult looking back, Ebenezer rationalized to the ghost that this rejection justified his compensation of hiding in his books—a decision that would eventually lead to a heart increasingly incapable of giving or receiving love.
Over time Ebenezer solidified his withdrawal from any and all relationships that held the potential risk of pain, firmly entrenching him in his miserly management of money and stocks devoid of human compassion under the guise of “it’s business.” His ill-placed commitments led to a level of cruelty and hard-heartedness that left him where he began—alone with his ledgers as his only companions on yet another Christmas Eve.
How sad! Not just for Ebenezer Scrooge (whose name has become synonymous with miserly and misanthropy in the English language) but for all who follow his path of a life dominated by the fear of rejection and pain.
The truth that stuck with me that night as I walked outside into the wintry blast was this: People who are a pain are in pain. Turn back the pages in their story far enough and eventually you will find a painful situation they’ve been running from all their lives. And it’s not until they face it in the presence of love and grace that they can break free from the chains they’ve woven in life that have kept their hearts cold, hard, and dead.
Fortunately, in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens doesn’t leave Ebenezer there. There’s a resurrection, a transformation of heart that required supernatural intervention. And he ends up on his knees praying for the opportunity to be a different man.
Transformation always happens that way. It comes through seeing our painful past, recognizing how we first attempted to survive that pain on our own, owning how the subsequent series of choices forged a lifestyle of control and avoidance that insured our safety from that pain . . . and our loneliness. It’s through brokenness that we come to the end of ourselves and turn in desperation to the only One who can remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).
The real carol of Christmas is that the Transformer of human hearts, Jesus, has come as a humble baby in a manger, not to condemn those whose hearts have been hardened by trying to survive in a hostile environment, but to offer a way out, to rescue us from ourselves that we might share in His life (John 3:17).