Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering Ebenezer

In an earlier post, I started to share my feelings about a much-maligned man. Granted, he's a fictional character; still, it really bothers me how we treat his memory.

That man, of course, is Ebenezer Scrooge. His name is synonymous with avarice, selfishness, and a loathing of Christmas. This is, in my mind, a great injustice. While it is entirely true that for much of his life, Scrooge was indeed the person most people associate with his name, it is also true that he became the antithesis of his former self.

In the closing lines of the book, Charles Dickens describes Ebenezer Scrooge as follows:

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.

Why is it then, that instead of remembering Scrooge as this kind, loving, generous human being who enriched so many people's lives, we choose to remember him for his sins and misdeeds? Why do we selfishly expect others to overlook our own faults and shortcomings, yet we cling so desperately to the judgments we make of others?

It seems to me the height of irony that we have entirely missed the point of A Christmas Carol. The message is one of redemption, hope, and new beginnings. Isn't that the whole point of Christmas? We celebrate the gift of Jesus Christ to the world, and through Him, the opportunity to become new creatures.

Who among us, upon coming to grips with the wretched people that we are, does not wish to erase the past and become better than we were? Indeed, everything in this life depends upon an ongoing recognizance that we are flawed, and have a constant need to make changes and amends. Furthermore, we desperately hope that others will forgive us our trespasses and allow us to become the people we ought to be.

Why then, do we find it so difficult to refuse others the opportunity we so desperately long for ourselves? Why do we insist on remembering people as they were for their shortcomings, and not for the people they become?

I think that secretly, all of us possess some degree of self-loathing. We see our own imperfections, compare ourselves with our potential, and judge ourselves lacking. It is far easier to perpetually condemn those who have stumbled and righted themselves, than it is to correct our own faults. How much simpler it is to look down upon the embittered, hateful old man Ebenezer Scrooge used to be and say to ourselves, “I'm so much better than he is. I love Christmas, and would never treat others as cruelly as he does.” If, however, we accept the new and improved Ebenezer Scrooge and compare ourselves to him, the truth is a terrible one to face. The man he became is far more generous and loving than we are. If we allow Scrooge to change, in comparison, we are the greedy, unloving, uncaring ones.

It is our own insecurities, then, that cause us to remember the sinner in his former state and not his current one. Seeing those who have successfully overcome the evil tendencies with which we all struggle, often serves as a reminder to us of our own inadequacies. Instead of inspiring us to change, our pride refuses to allow us to see the malefactor in his state of rebirth and transformation. As long as we see others for the awful people they used to be, we can continue to live under the insidious, false pretext that the abysmal us is somehow better than our new and improved neighbor. As long as we've conned ourselves into thinking that we're somehow better than the awful person another used to be, then we're still a “good person” who has no need to change.

This Christmas, it is my hope that we may show others the same mercy and forgiveness we so desperately wish for ourselves. May we see the repentant sinner and be inspired to follow his example, and allow him the opportunity to change and be forgiven. May we hear the name Ebenezer Scrooge and remember him as the wonderful, charitable soul he became, and not the sad, shell of a man he was before. Most importantly, may we remember it is precisely because of Christmas, that come judgment day, we can likewise be looked upon with mercy and forgiveness, and judged—not for who we used to be—but who we became through the merits, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ.