Before Ebenezer Scrooge was done with his visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he pledged to keep Christmas the whole year through, and to keep all three ghosts with him as well. The evidence suggests that he lived up to his commitment given the way he behaved in the final scene of Dickens’ classic novella: charitable, humble, generous, penitent, joyful, gracious. Scrooge is a fictitious character, of course, but Dickens tells us that his transformation stuck, presumably for the rest of his life. What might he have done to ensure that he remained born again? What might we do?
I think a clue Dickens may have given us is Scrooge’s statement that he would keep the ghosts with him. I wonder if Scrooge reflected regularly on the visits of the ghosts and the lessons he drew from them. For the Ghost of Christmas past, I wonder if he may have journaled something like this:
There were choices others made that affected me. My father, for so many years, left me to the care of my boarding school – even over the Christmas holiday. This is not what I wanted. I was hurt, alone, and felt abandoned. In my apprenticeship years, Fezziwig made a different choice than my father. My old boss was generous and joyful at Christmas – what a time we had! During that time in my life I even fell in love – I made the choice to make room for Belle. But over time, my fear of being poor won the battle over my priorities, and I slowly and surely let my relationship with Belle – my love – die. I chose who I became. So I choose to be mindful of the forces that came together to form me: the choices others made that affected me deeply both positively and negatively, and the choices I made that set me on my course. I choose to be mindful of the choices I make.
There would be times when Ebenezer would have been tempted to revert back to his old ways. Fears would creep up of being left alone and he would perhaps find himself in spaces of low self-esteem that would trigger his self-protective modes of being. Or the market might stumble and his fear of poverty would trigger his miserliness to come to the surface. At those moments, having a journal entry like the one above might just help him remember where he had come from and serve to help him keep Christmas.
For the Ghost of Christmas Present, I wonder if his journal entry might have included a variation of this:
While I walked around the streets of London, I saw that everyone was in a festive mood, enjoying each other and the season in every way. Good cheer all around. At Bob Cratchit’s home there was only love, even though the feast was meager. Even though I gave no reason for receiving honor that night, Bob granted it anyway. Tiny Tim, who had every reason to be bitter, was instead full of love and faith. My Nephew Fred and his friends were carrying on with great joy at the dinner I was invited to. Meanwhile, that very night I was cold and alone in my room; bitter, angry, and suspicious of the world around me, guarding the wealth that was not serving me or anyone else. I was the one missing out on life and love and joy. That was the choice I was making. It was hurting me, and it was refusing blessing on those closest to me. In truth, I could have made Bob’s Christmas so much the merrier, and I could have brought joy to Fred by accepting his invitation. I hurt myself, and I hurt them. I will choose to live in the moment, to choose joy and love, and to offer what I have for the joy of others.
There would come times in Ebenezer’s life when he would wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or get discouraged because it wouldn’t feel like his changes were making any real difference, or maybe the people he helped disappointed him in some way. Fred might forget to be so cheery, or Bob might buy an expensive toy for himself when his family’s needs were not yet met. At those moments, going back to what he experienced that night with the Ghost of Christmas Present just might serve to strengthen his resolve even when he didn’t feel like it.
For the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, perhaps his diary had these words within it:
What an awful visit this was – a clarion call to pay attention to what my apathy was causing and perpetuating. No more Tiny Tim because Bob couldn’t afford the medical care he needed. No more me, and no one mourning the loss of my life. I learned that the life I led was a dead end. I didn’t take my wealth with me, didn’t do anything with it, and the world was no better for it. All due to choices I made. I woke up determined not to make those same choices. I choose to stay awake today. I will use what I have to make a difference in the world – with those I know and care about, and with those who I don’t know. I will be generous with what I have for their sake and mine.
There would come moments for Scrooge when he would forget that his days were numbered and that his wealth would not move with him into the next life. He would forget that death comes for everyone and that our legacy will not be in our titles or possessions, but rather what we did with our titles and possessions beyond self-indulgence. In those moments of forgetfulness he may have been less inclined toward generosity and selflessness. Being able to turn back and remember what happened that night and the insight he gained would perhaps serve to correct his vision and get him back on track.
Put yourself in Scrooge’s shoes. Imagine taking the same journey with the same ghosts. What do you imagine your visits being like? What would you be journaling after each?
There is an interesting note in the Christmas Story in Luke’s Gospel. After Mary gave birth, the shepherds who were tending their flock came to visit, recounting their angelic visit. Luke tells us that “Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19). I think she was onto something here. And I think we need to learn from her. I am sure there were many moments going forward when Mary would remember all that had happened along her journey. Her reflection undoubtedly kept her centered as she followed Jesus through his highs and lows, not always certain which experiences Jesus thought were highs or lows.
The idea of remembering one’s identity with great intention was and is a key practice in our (and every) faith tradition. It appears that we human beings have a tendency to forget who we are and who we are called to become. We get tempted by the pressures of the moment, or the day, or the season, and find ourselves off track. In the Hebrew scriptures the remembering is directed in two ways. First, especially when the people got off track and found themselves in a mess, the prayers of the people were asking God to remember who God was, primarily so that God wouldn’t resort to being too harsh on the people God claimed to love! Remember your children, remember your people, remember your promise, Oh God!
Remembering was also a part of the rhythm of the life of faith directed to help people recall who they were and where they had come from. The intention required to set aside time for personal prayer and reflection, time to gather with others in the faith to remember we’re not alone, time to do things we don’t otherwise do – take communion, sing songs, learn, meditate, give away our time and money – all of these and more serve to remind us of who we are so that we can keep Christmas. Keeping Christmas is bigger than December 25th, bigger than it’s twelve days, bigger than Advent, bigger than the gift-giving marketing that begins showing up at Walmart in August. Keeping Christmas is a reminder to keep the Christ part of our daily mass, our daily lives. God didn’t simply break into our world in Jesus on one particular day. The point of that was that God breaks into life everyday in every situation. God cannot not break into life because the presence of God is interwoven into life itself, into the creation that was sourced from God somehow in the beginning. Keeping Christmas is about remembering, re-membering, keeping whole and together that which might otherwise get fragmented. Religion’s real purpose is to re-ligament, to keep things connected that would otherwise fall apart.
There is great value in pondering. Reflecting on our lives as we live life helps us maintain perspective, stay centered, and choose wisely. We are more likely to make choices that help us become who we long to become and live out of our True Selves. In light of Scrooge who surely must have been intentional about remembering where he came from, and in light of Mary who pondered things in her heart, how are you going to keep Christmas?
1. How are you keeping Christmas?
2. How are you keeping the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come with you?
3. How are you pondering deep things in your heart as you move forward in life?