In the first chapter of A Christmas Carol (1843), Charles Dickens takes great pains to show us the destructive indifference of Ebenezer’s dominant Olympian personality and ours.
But he doesn’t leave the story there. Jesus was determined to break the control of Olympian Ebenezer over Christian Ebenezer. To do this, he first sent the ghost of Jacob Marley as a most unusual messenger of liberation. Jacob had been Ebenezer’s business partner in life. By successfully challenging Olympian Ebenezer’s control of the truth, Jacob had been able to weaken Olympian Ebenezer enough to open the possibility for Tufluvian Ebenezer to develop. His task completed, Jacob left stimulation of that development to three subsequent spirits: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
“Good Heaven!” said Scrooge, clasping his hands together, as he looked about him. “I was bred in this place. I was a boy here!”
…[Scrooge] was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!
“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?”
Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple; and begged the Ghost to lead him where he would.
The ghost of Jacob Marley had loosened the suffocating control of Olympian Ebenezer over Christian Ebenezer by successfully challenging Olympian Ebenezer’s definition of truth. With just that slightest of openings to new possibilities, already Christian Ebenezer had shown surprising vitality.
To further strengthen Ebenezer’s Christian personality, the Ghost of Christmas Past returned him to his childhood home. An abundance of familiar smells had suddenly stimulated an abundance of Christian memories. Those long-lost memories had, in turn, made Ebenezer so happy he cried. He then gave the Ghost complete control over their shared agenda.
We have two personalities but only one brain. In that brain, we store memories. Some of these memories form part of our Olympian personality. When that personality is in control, we recall our Olympian memories. Other memories are Christian and form part of that personality.
Olympian Ebenezer didn’t recall any Christian memories. When Ebenezer returned to his boyhood home, however, the smells triggered long-neglected Christian memories. With those fresh memories his Christian personality came roaring back to life.
The Ghost of Christmas Past then took Ebenezer to the old dilapidated brick house that had once served as his boarding school. They went to the back of the house and entered a long, bare, melancholy room. At a desk inside it a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he had used to be.
This got his Christian self thinking about another poor forgotten boy. “I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: “but it’s too late now.”
“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.
“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.” His Christian self remembered with regret what his Olympian self had done the night before. Gaining in strength, it wouldn’t allow that same act of indifference again.
Another Christmas Eve at that same school found Ebenezer alone there again. This time, though, he was rescued from the school by his sister. Their father had sent her by carriage to fetch her brother and bring him home for good.
“Always a delicate creature, whom a breath might have withered,” said the Ghost. “But she had a large heart!”
“So she had,” cried Scrooge. “You’re right, I’ll not gainsay it, Spirit. God forbid!”
“She died a woman,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think, children.”
“One child,” Scrooge returned.
“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew!”
Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, “Yes.” Yes, Christian Ebenezer recalled and could now express his regret at how Olympian Ebenezer had shown his charming nephew so little civility on Christmas Eve, had even said that fools wasting their time spreading Christmas cheer should be boiled and buried.
The Ghost next took Ebenezer to his old employer’s business on Christmas Eve. Christian Fezziwig certainly knew how to treat all of his employees to a most convivial Christmas celebration! He provided them all with a wonderfully warm, bright, and decorated room, music to dance to, games to play, plenty of food and drink, lots of laughter, all surrounded by an atmosphere of care.
Care? To test Ebenezer, the Ghost pointed out that the whole Christmas Eve party was a small matter. It had only cost Fezziwig three or four pounds at most.
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former [Tufluvian], not his latter [Olympian], self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that in his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“What’s the matter?” asked the Ghost.
“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.
“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.
“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now! That’s all.”
In one of his last acts, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Ebenezer back to the moment when his one true love broke off their engagement.
“It matters little,” she said softly. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”
“What Idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.
“A golden one.” She was right. Ebenezer no longer adored her. He adored Pluto, god of money. Instead of comforting his one true love with loving responses, he tormented her by repeating the catechism of Pluto that he had memorized so well.
“This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”
She gave him a meaningfully Christian response. “You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen all your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
“What then?” he retorted. “Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then?” We see how the meaning of words depends on their context. Take wise for example. In an Olympian context, to be wise means to subordinate all else to the goal of becoming rich. In a Christian context, to be wise means to know what words and actions will speak truth and manifest love and lead all involved to greater vitality. Scrooge became wise in one way. Fezziwig remained wise in another.
“May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”
She left him; and they parted.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?” So the idol Scrooge chose long ago lied to him. It didn't cheer and comfort him in time to come as promised.
This Christmas Day, let us ask ourselves: are we happy with the life we have chosen? Are we witnessing clearly and joyfully to all the truth, freedom, love, and vitality that are ours in Christ? Is our church committed to sharing all the light of his truth, warmth of his love, and strength of his vitality with others? Are we stoutly serving Jesus as sentinel (Ezekiel 33) by gently but persistently questioning the idols of our Olympian neighbors as Ebenezer’s true love once questioned him?