by Phil Baker
Since we published our Movies by Moonlight “Family Christmas Movie Guide”, I’ve been asked which is my favorite Christmas movie. Actually my favorite is many movies – A Christmas Carol. It has been remade at least 28 times. And I enjoy reading the source material by Charles Dickens every Christmas.
Like most of you, I grew up watching the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge every Christmas. So I thought I knew the story inside and out. But with each new reading and viewing, I discover something new. Sorta like reading the Bible!
Most describe Scrooge as “greedy”. But I think of greedy people as those who spend money on themselves. What I notice about Scrooge is that while he does have a small fortune, he doesn’t live extravagantly. He lives alone in a stark, empty and cold house. He eats his bland gruel next to a meager evening fire. When the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him his younger self, Scrooge watches as his romance with Belle dissolves because he doesn’t feel he has accumulated enough savings. Scrooge’s security is in his stored-up, untouched wealth. What’s wrong with that? Doesn’t it make good sense to save your money?
As I meditated on this, I was reminded of Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool.
16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This story also perplexed me for a while. It makes sense to store up your blessings and to have a well-deserved rest after your hard work, doesn’t it? What does it mean to be “rich toward God”?
The answer is given by Jacob Marley’s ghost when he visits Scrooge. He says “It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men.” We were made for relationships. We were meant to interact, to care for one another. Marley’s torment, the torment of all ghosts like him, the torment that awaits Scrooge, is that he will be weighed down by his accumulated wealth after death, unable to spend it or use it to help anyone. The Rich Fool takes the same risk. Instead of using what God has blessed him with to help others, he decides to plan for an early retirement.
This is counter to what the world teaches us. Any of us would be envious of someone who hits it big early and lives off the interest of their wealth. But what Jesus and Charles Dickens are both trying to tell us is that true wealth is in the sharing with your fellow man. It is in relationships. It is in giving and sharing…and helping. Dickens ironically gave Scrooge the first name Ebenezer, which comes from 1 Samuel and means “stone of help”. The Israelites placed a stone (as they often did) at the site of their victory over the Philistines to remind them that God helped them.
Most movie versions of A Christmas Carol leave out a scene that I find very interesting. The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to see Belle many years after their breakup, where she his happily married and surrounded by children. Scrooge witnesses a humble house filled with happiness and warmth, a home and a life that could have been his, something he surprisingly finds himself coveting as he stands alone in the cold street.
And so I find myself asking, what am I keeping to myself? What am I hoarding that God wants me to share with others? Who can I help? How can I help them? Maybe a resolution for the New Year could be to go forth and share that with my fellow man. I want to be like the Scrooge described on the final page of A Christmas Carol.
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
BTW, probably my favorite movie version is A Muppet Christmas Carol.