Now I'm not proud of myself, but I LOVE Christmas films. The favourites in my household are all adaptations of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'. I love the zany '80s interpretation called 'Scrooged' starring the magnificent Bill Murray. My husband prefers 'The Muppets' Christmas Carol'. Don't judge us.
The story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, like some stories from the Bible, is so well known it's comfortable, familiar and often fails to shock in the way it originally did. 'A Christmas Carol' has been adapted, tamed and set to heart-warming sentimental music. The original story, by Charles Dickens, is beautiful and beautifully written. Read it for yourself - it's a very short novel.
One of the most spine-chilling scenes comes when Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, who tells Scrooge of the great chain he carries in death, forged by his actions during his mortal life. Marley explains that he should have cared for his fellow men, but he did not, and now it is too late. Scrooge is troubled by Marley's words, and protests:
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business."
Later, as he watches Marley's ghost leave, Scrooge becomes aware of a strange sound and looks out of the window:
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Someone once pointed out to me the parallel between this scene and the story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16. In this story told by Jesus, the rich man fails to care for poor Lazarus, who sits destitute at his gate. Then the rich man dies and goes to his punishment in the underworld; he regrets his hard-heartedness, but finds that it is too late. In 'A Christmas Carol' Dickens reflects Jesus' teaching on the importance of practical care for the poor and those in need and suggests, as Jesus seemed to, that there is a terrible cost for those who ignore it. Dickens' interpretation of the nature of this punishment is fascinating; spirits doomed to walk the earth, witnessing human misery but unable to do anything to stop it.
As we all know, by the end of the book/film, Scrooge is a reformed character, who decides to look after his clerk, Bob Cratchit, properly and to give money to help the poor. He starts to visit his nephew and to seek friendships with others, where before he had kept himself entirely to himself. This is all highly commendable, but I am always left a little uneasy by the sugary sweet ending of modern adaptations. The message seems to be that we just need to be nice to each other and give money to the poor, both of which seem to be easy things to do, and most of us are probably left thinking that we do these things anyway. But is this the costly care for others which Jesus taught about with such fierce passion? Even though I love 'Scrooged', the 'Scrooge' character, Frank Cross, is a hilariously horrible person and I compare pretty favourably with him. I have never instructed anyone to try stapling tiny reindeer horns to a mouse, for example.
I suspect that the transformation Christ wants to bring about in me, in my attitude towards others, in my giving of my time and money, might just hurt a bit more.
By Emma Nash who blogs over on Coffee Theology