Marley was dead, to begin with. But Scrooge was still very much alive and on a quest for salvation. Perhaps, to put a finer point on it, on a quest for redemption.
This is the central theme of Charles Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol — the salvation and redemption of the mean-spirited money lender and miserable miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.
You realize this early on in the tale when Scrooge is approached by the first ghost. This initial phantom is the Ghost of Christmas Past. After the ghost appears in Scrooge’s bedroom, Scrooge demands to know why she was there.
In the Muppet’s movie adaption (which is rather faithful to the original script), he asks, “What business has brought you here?”
The Ghost of Christmas Past responds, “Your welfare.”
Scrooge: “Heh, a night’s unbroken rest might aid my welfare.”
Ghost of Christmas Past: “Your salvation, then.” Or, in the original play, “Your reclamation, then. Take heed!”
Salvation. Redemption. Reclamation. These three words, while different, express shades of similar meaning, meaning what we find most deeply understood and explained in light of the true meaning and message of Christmas.
It is hardly a coincidence that Dickens set this story, the salvation of Scrooge, at Christmastime.
Dickens holds up Scrooge as the flesh and blood embodiment of the man that Christ warns about in Matthew 16:28: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Scrooge was a man who was more than willing to trade his soul for the world and its passing riches. And he learns, as we must, that there is nothing a man can give in return for his soul once it’s gone. You can’t put a price on happiness or the human soul. But you can repent.
As the play unfolds, Scrooge is confronted with the errors of his ways. Reviewing his life, he sees that he trades love for profit, joy for financial security, and charity towards his fellow men for a few extra coffers in his bank account. Scrooge loved money and hated men. Those around him were sucked into the vortex of cold, calculating, and cruel ways (see Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim).
Scrooge thought that when it came to accounts he would always come out on top. Little did he realize, until the gracious intervention of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, that he was racking up a debt he could never pay. One day, his death day, he would be the one called to make a payment — a payment of love.
Scrooge loved to evict his tenants who couldn’t pay the mortgage. But in the final judgment, Scrooge was going to need to balance an eternally weightier bank note — the payment and proof of a life lived for the glory of God and the good of others. And it’s painfully clear: if he continues on the course he is currently on, his life will end in judgment and disaster.
But…what a wonderful three-letter word…but for the hope of Christmas, Scrooge repents of his sins of greed and selfishness. While Dickens doesn’t present the gospel of Christ, the message of salvation, of redemption, of reclamation, permeates the end of the story.
Scrooge demonstrates his inward change with tangible, outward actions. He throws a lavish Christmas feast for the Cratchits and their friends — now, his friends too.
A Christmas Carol is little more than a literary adaption of the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector in Luke 19:1-10. Like Scrooge, Zacchaeus had an excepted guest. But it wasn’t a ghost, it was God the Son, God incarnate.
After entertaining Jesus, Zacchaeus found his own salvation. In Luke 19:8-10, we read:
“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”
This brings us back to Christmas. Christmas is the inbreaking of this salvation hope, that the Son of Man was come to seek and save the lost. To save wretched sinners like Scrooge. And like you. And me.
Christianity teaches us that we are all Scrooges in our souls. We might not be as outwardly awful, but we are dead in our sins nonetheless. Our souls need salvation. Our future needs redemption. And our lives need reclamation.
This is exactly why Jesus Christ came to earth, born on Christmas day! In the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find the gospel of redemption, the free gift of eternal life in Christ our Lord. It is because of Christmas — and the Cross — that we all, like Scrooge, can be “rescued…from the dominion of darkness and brought…into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).
At the birth of John the Baptist, his father, the priest Zechariah, proclaims this hope, exclaiming in Luke 1:68-69:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David.”
Redemption has come to those in darkness. Salvation from the house of David. It came, not in the form of a conquering King, but in a crying child.
The reason that A Christmas Carol can preach the salvation of Scrooge is because the Christmas story preaches the salvation of all who repent and believe. Which is what we all so desperately need — redemption.
We all need to have the hope of a new life held out, especially when we have made a mess of ourselves. We need the hope of forgiveness, restoration, and eternal life. This is what we find in the cradle, a humble King born to die so that we might be forgiven of our sins, reunited to our Creator God, and given eternal life.
In order to celebrate rightly, we must remember. After all, Scrooge had another name — Ebenezer. Ebenezer means stone of help. And help us he does, Ebenezer Scrooge. He helps us remember that we too should “take heed” unto our salvation.
We can do that again, this Christmas, with happy hearts and humble souls, receiving the greatest gift the world has ever known — Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
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