Exploring inspired words: Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’
A member of the bishopric asked me to speak in sacrament meeting today on a topic related to Christ and Christmas.
As I thought about it, I recalled hearing LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson say something interesting in his remarks during the 2011 First Presidency Christmas Devotional. For as long as he can remember, President Monson has had a tradition of reading three stories each year at Christmas time:
1. The Christmas Story as found in the Gospel of Luke.
2. “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.
3. “The Mansion,” by Henry Van Dyke.
“I always must wipe my eyes when reading these inspired writings,” President Monson said. “They touch my inner soul and bring to me the Spirit of our Savior.”
I can understand why President Monson would read the Christmas story in the Bible. But what is so impactful about the other two stories? I think everybody is familiar with the basic details of Dickens “Carol.” I had read the children’s book version of “The Mansion.” What gospel principles might these tales teach? I decided if President Monson considered these stories to be inspired works, then they must have worthwhile messages. So I studied these stories and what I learned became my talk in church today. (Actually, the meeting ran low on time and I was the final speaker, so I cut the section about “The Mansion.” I will share that later.)
“A Christmas Carol” backstory:
When studying the scriptures, we are told to consider the context of the story in order to more fully understand what happened. So I did that with “A Christmas Carol.” What I found was fascinating to me.
Christmas was in decline in the 1840s. It was considered a lesser holiday, something more like Memorial Day. Few people got the day off and few gathered for festive celebrations. Young children were forced to work 15-18 hour days in factories and were ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-treated. Dickens himself worked in a boot-blacking factory at age 12 after his father was imprisoned for debts. Educational opportunities for the poor were very limited.
Before publishing his timeless Christmas classic in 1843, Dickens was at a low point in his career. He was facing bankruptcy and contemplated giving up writing. Somehow he pulled himself together and wrote a story that not only saved his career, but helped to transform Christmas into a more celebrated holiday.
Because a previous novel was in the process of failing, Dickens’ publisher didn’t want to risk any more money on him. But Dickens was determined and despite his financial struggles, he paid for the production himself. He wrote to a friend, “I believe I have written a tremendous book … It will make a great uproar, I have no doubt.”
We all know the story – Ebenezer “Bah humbug” Scrooge, an old, rich, mean, miser who lives alone, receives visits from Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner, followed by the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come.
President Monson: “During the course of the night before Christmas, Scrooge is shown what he once had in his life, what he has in the present, and what his life will be if he remains on the path he has thus far chosen. He is able to recognize the error of his ways. He learns that happiness can come to us if we will forget self and worldly gain, concentrating instead on helping others and learning to embrace the love of family and friends. Now converted to a life of selflessness and service, Scrooge declares at the last: ‘I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.’”
Gospel Lessons I took from this story:
- Care for the poor; be mindful of the Bob Crachit families you might know.
- Those who are self-centered live cold, miserable lives. They are blind to the needs of others.
- Christmas is a time to build family relationships and nourish each other. The Crachit family is poor, but they are happy and inspired by the big heart of Tiny Tim. They have everything because of the love and care they have for each other.
- Love your family members unconditionally as Scrooge’s nephew Fred loved him. Family cares for you even when you are a terrible person.
- Administering angels, seen and unseen, are all around us, always helping us.
- Fortunately, as we know, Scrooge changed his life for the better. I love his line, “I am not the man I was.” The “Carol” is a song of repentance and redemption.
- This story reminded me of Alma 34:32 – “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. … (33) Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance. … If we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.”
“Mankind was my business!”
That brings me to the part of story that really gave me goose bumps. Do you remember when Marley’s ghost, wrapped in chains, comes to Scrooge? Marley spoke sadly of deep regret and opportunities lost. Scrooge thought reminding his old partner of what a great businessman he was would cheer him up.
Scrooge: “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
Marley: “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all my business. … Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
Observation: People cross our paths for a reason. If we live a self-consumed life, we don’t even see them. But if we open our eyes, opportunities will present themselves for us to serve and be served.
President Monson (2008): “As we remember that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mos. 2:17), we will not find ourselves in the unenviable position of Jacob Marley’s ghost.”
Why is “A Christmas Carol” so popular? This is what President Monson thinks:
“Why is Dickens’s Christmas Carol so popular? Why is it ever new? It brings out the best within human nature. It gives hope. It motivates change. We can turn from the paths which would lead us down and, with a song in our hearts, follow a star and walk toward the light. We can quicken our step, bolster our courage, and bask in the sunlight of truth. We can hear more clearly the laughter of little children. We can dry the tear of the weeping. We can comfort the dying by sharing the promise of eternal life. If we lift one weary hand which hangs down, if we bring peace to one struggling soul, if we give as did the Master, we can—by showing the way—become a guiding star for some lost mariner.”
May we take President Monson’s challenge to carry the spirit of Christmas in our hearts all year long:
“These readings never fail to bring to me the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things. The spirit of Christmas is something I hope all of us would have within our hearts and within our lives, not only at this particular season but also throughout the years.”