"Come in and know me better, man"
A Christmas Carol is a story that gets a lot of play in our house during this time of year. We have the recent Jim Carrey motion capture version that Jamie used in class, as it is one of the most faithful adaptations. We watch Mickey's Christmas Carol for Scrooge McDuck (lovingly homaged in last year's Ducktales Christmas episode). We watch the derivations of the story, like Rod Serling's haunting Carol for Another Christmas or the noir Cash on Demand. And of course, we watch the best adaptation of them all - Muppet Christmas Carol. I'm not joking on that last part. Michael Caine has to be one of the best Ebeneezer Scrooge's ever because he plays the role with such sincerity. The perfect straight-man while surrounded by Muppets. Someday soon, we'll have to catch the Indiana Repertory Theater's annual version.
Over the last several years, the Ghost of Christmas Present has become a fascinating figure to me. A Father Christmas like figure. A giant of a man - a symbol of plenty. A cornucopia for a torch and a bountiful feast before him. And through his journey he shows Scrooge the abundance of the celebration, even for those of meager means.
I also love the detail of him carrying an empty scabbard. A symbol of the message the angels brought for this time of year, "on Earth peace, goodwill toward men." The sword is not needed, the Savior is here.
The spirit also serves as a reminder to us of the fleeting nature of the present. He exists only for the season and each year, a new brother is born. In Dickens' text, it seems he lives for the Twelve Days of Christmas, as he disappears on the stroke of midnight on Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany or Three Kings' Day. He is a reminder for us to "be present." The spirit is merry because of his focus on the celebration of the night. Unburdened by the mistakes of the past or the worries of the future, the Ghost of Christmas Present can enjoy the merriment of the season. He can spread his light and warmth from his torch as he travels.
That is not to say that this spirit ignores the realities that many face over the holidays. He shows Scrooge scenes of deprivation as well as plenty. And it is this spirit that gives Scrooge perhaps the most pressing warnings. Warnings that all would do well to heed.
Toward the end of his visit, the spirit reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, a boy and a girl, clinging to his robes. Ignorance and Want. The boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want. They are man's children. "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased."
The ills of Want are quite apparent. Want represents the need we see all around us. Homelessness, hunger, poverty, and neglect. All social ills that we recognize and prioritize trying to address. "Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives." Titus 3:14 We do so, because we recognize the dark ends that Want leads to: disease, abuse, suffering, desperation, and death. All ends we would seek to avoid.
The ills of Ignorance are less obvious, but far more dangerous. Ignorance prolongs and worsens Want. For Ignorance keeps us in fear: we fear what we do not know and understand. It is ignorance that prolongs racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and hate. For it is much easier to hate that which you do not know or understand. It is Ignorance that looks at someone who is begging and assumes that they have not even tried to look for a job. It is Ignorance that assumes that same person would just spend any money on alcohol or drugs.
And it is Ignorance that we first must tackle so that we can address Want. "Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way." Proverbs 19:2 That is the warning of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Why Ignorance is to be feared more. For it is Ignorance that will bring our doom, unless it is changed.
We see this through the character of Scrooge himself. The first thing that is changed through his travels with the spirits is his ignorance to the world around him. Through his travels, he becomes aware of the joys and the sorrows that surround him, breaking through his narcissism and myopic greed. Through the removal of his ignorance, his heart can be changed. And from that, he can be moved to address the wants that are all around him. The want of the Cratchit family for basic provisions. Tiny Tim's want for nourishment to help heal him. Fred's want for family connection.
May we all be present this Christmas season. Aware of those around us and open to their needs. May we not let ignorance lead us, but may we seek to address want where it is found and meet it. May we share our abundance and bounty with those around us. May we embody the peace of the season and may we rejoice in it. And may we never forget the reason for Christmas past, present, and future.
Come, let's know Him better.