Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Saving Souls by Being Merry This Christmas

December 10, 2015


As Christmas draws near, many of us welcome the season with great joy. This festive time affords an outpouring of great mirth—the reuniting with friends and relatives, the pleasant nostalgia of past Christmastimes, the giving and receiving of gifts, baked treats and warm affection. However, such feelings of joy can be dampened by the laundry list of to-dos before the big day, and the unrelenting stress and busyness can snuff out the holiday cheer. We can get caught up in the many distractions of the Yuletide season, and amidst the sound of Christmas carols and the smell of gingerbread, fail to image the joy of the season to the world. Not to mention, there are many others who face the season with dread. It’s well known that the Holidays can be a particularly difficult time for people. Such joyous occasions can point instead to their stark absence in one’s own life. Sadly, this time of year can stir feelings of loneliness and loss as well.

Christmas stories like A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life can fan flames of empathy and goodwill toward all, lest we forget what the season is all about. But as Christians we are called to be a light to others all year round. We are called to be a city on a hilltop, a lamp on a stand. That’s why Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmas tale, a staple this time of year, speaks a great truth about Christianity that can never be lost: Christians are called to be people of unshakable joy in order to draw the lost back to God.

In Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, the selfish, wizened Scrooge is converted through God’s initial act of grace, which manifests in the form of three oneiric spirits. There are two major elements to his conversion, which occur during the course of the night: the first is a witnessing of his inevitable end if he continues to live a life of selfishness. While in the company of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he foresees his own death devoid of dignity, as his lifeless body is scoured for valuables by the undertaker, laundress and charwoman (implying he is more valuable dead than alive). Additionally, very few care about his passing—his legacy stands frigid, dishonored and meaningless to the rest of the world. In that moment, Scrooge glances the interior of his own soul—a type of heightened examination of conscience—and is jarred by his current fate. 

Although such a stark and horrifying vision does much for his conversion, I believe that the second element of his conversion is more effective and, ultimately, responsible. The generous, kind and joyful Tiny Tim, the crippled son of Scrooge’s overworked employee Bob Cratchit, warms Scrooge’s heart. Tiny Tim, who in his weakness images humility and courage, clearly gives flesh to a Christ figure in the story. Unknown to Tiny Tim, it’s the old miser’s greed that will—if nothing changes—lead to his very own death. It’s Tiny Tim’s unwavering joy—a light not swallowed by the shadow of the world—that chips away at the grime on Scrooge’s heart.

“They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty…but, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit’s torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.”

– Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

The story overwhelmingly hammers the need to love and care for others, which is perhaps explicitly conveyed in Jacob Marley’s famous, chilling exhortation to his partner, Scrooge: “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.” And yes, there can be no doubt that these are key responsibilities for us as Christians in this life. Still, there is the subtle call in the story for not only the fulfillment of obligation, but also an exuding of joy—of keeping Christmas well, all year round.

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

– Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

It’s critical that as we set about evangelizing others, we do so through wielding the banner of joy and blasting the trumpet of rejoicing. We celebrate because Christ came into the world not to dish us heavy crosses and mournful gazes, but to save us and usher us into the Eternal Banquet. We can’t let the busyness or worldliness of the Christmas season—or the rest of the year—ever dim that theological truth. This is especially true in striving to draw those who have turned their back on God: the spiritually dead who steep in bitterness, selfishness, and despair. It’s for these souls, like Scrooge before his phantasmal visits, who need to see that they too are invited to drink the joy poured out at God’s banquet hall. That’s why this story stands timeless, because year after year it calls us, and the fallen, Scrooge-like parts of our own souls, to accept and celebrate the gift of eternal life.

In Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, he memorably calls out “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” These Christians not only do themselves harm by depriving themselves of joy and the peace that the world can’t comprehend, but most tragically, they fail to draw others into the light and love of Christ (for there is nothing alluring about a miserable person). When we enter into the love of God, we find that we are overwhelmed with joy. There will of course be times of duty and when the feelings don’t match the doing. There will also be times of suffering, when we are not “happy,” in the worldly sense. But even during these times, if we allow ourselves, we have access to an inner joy that comes with knowing Christ. That’s again why Tiny Tim stands in for Christ—despite his poverty and crippled-ness, he is filled with joy, a joy that overflows even onto Scrooge. The crippled boy responds to a suffering world as Christ did, who knowing himself as the beloved Son of God, harbored an unwavering joy within his heart as he walked the earth.

“There was something that he hid from all men when he went up a mountain to pray. There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

– G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

Scrooge not only becomes a man of God, doing good and sharing his wealth with those in need, but he is overwhelmed with the joy that follows when living within the Kingdom of Heaven. Scrooge realizes that being a Christian doesn’t merely entail responding well to life out of obligation, but rather, receiving the joyous gift of friendship with God. We love God, yes, because it’s right and just, but also because there is a tremendous happiness and joy in loving God for his own sake. If we live this out—and truly believe it—then others will see this anchored joy within us. And if they do, by the grace of God, we can melt hardened hearts this Christmas season, and every season.

“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

– Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”