You can’t experience Christmas in the United States or Western world and not have some exposure to Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, commonly known as A Christmas Carol.
We all know the story then, right? Ebenezer Scrooge is a grouchy discontent who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley who tells him to expect visits by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.
Scrooge does not have a specifically “come to Jesus” moment, but he is a man transformed. There is a clear storyline of grace as he is given the opportunity to see his life afresh and avoid the same fate of his business partner.
His change of heart is evidenced in a change of life. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages; the story has been endlessly adapted for virtually every kind of media and age. Some have suggested that A Christmas Carol not only captured the zeitgeist of the early Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday but that it has heavily influenced our modern Western Christmas rhythms of decorating, gathering, giving generously, and considering how we’ve lived in relationship to the spirit of Christmas.
We may not be visited by a cadre of spirits on Christmas Eve, but we are all living with a Christmas past, present and future.
What is your relationship to Christmas Past? Do you have fond memories of Christmas or are there Christmases you’d prefer to forget? Most likely, because we all live in this fallen, imperfect world, we all have at least some difficult or painful memories.
But Christmas Past is fundamentally a good one— really, the best story ever told. Because Christmas is a celebration of a historical event that actually happened 2000 years ago— the moment God, in the person of Jesus, condescended form heaven and put on human flesh for us.
This is why the angel declared to the petrified shepherds, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10).
The arrival of the Christ-child was the best news ever delivered! He became like us, to be with us— Immanuel, God with us. The incarnation is the moment upon which all of history hangs. And it is the most important moment of our personal story as well. Not our achievements or successes or failures or hurts— but the reality of Heaven come to Earth on that first Christmas day.
How about this Christmas? Are you looking forward to this year’s celebration of the coming of the Christ child or are you filled with angst or even dread?
We live in uncertain times where it seems the darkness is spreading and it is hard to see the Light, even when we are looking for it. Maybe it just doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate after a difficult year. For some of us, this holiday may be especially difficult as we prepare for an empty chair at the dinner table due to loss or broken relationships. We can recall the story of Christmas past, and we will look ahead in a moment for Christmas future— but what about today? How does this intersect with our real lives?
Jesus who came to earth, lived a perfect life, died and then rose again, is now sitting at the right of the Father interceding for us. Romans 8 gives us this hope for today, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”
Paul goes on to answer his own question, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The good news of Christmas is not only past, but actually changes our lives right now. Jesus’ work continues on our behalf. And as a result, we are promised that there is nothing that can separate us from His love. So whatever is weighing us down or worrying us in our present, the gift of Christmas is that we do not go it alone, ever.
And as you consider Christmas Future, what do you see? What do you anticipate as you look ahead at Christmas Yet to Come?
Depending on where you are in life right now, Christmas Future may be heard to imagine or contemplate. Maybe the kids are grown and out of the house with their own children, and it seems the best of Christmas is behind you. Or maybe you are in a heavy care-taking role for the foreseeable future where there are too many things to do in too little time leaving too little room for our own hearts to celebrate and enjoy. But here is the good news of Christmas no matter our life season— the best is yet to come.
In the Christian calendar, the time leading up to Christmas we call Advent, which means arrival. Even though Christmas is a past event, we are still waiting. Christ has come— and He is coming again. Our experience of Christmas is not only dictated by the past and present. We have a future hope of the return of Christ, who will indeed make all things new.
Isaiah 9 promises a child will be born, who will one day establish a forever kingdom where justice and righteousness reign forever:
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.Isaiah 9:6-7
The promise of Christmas Future is a world set right, and ruled by the One Righteous Forever King. We celebrate His coming as a little child and await His return as a conquering King.
We have a tendency to burden Christmas Present with more than any one day or even a Twelve- day season can rightly bear. Christmas was not meant to be a burden but a blessing. And Christmas Present is not about the gift but the receipt of the greatest present ever given: the very presence of God in our midst.
What does it mean to receive the gift of God in Jesus Christ this Christmas? How does the reality of His presence change this year’s Christmas and every Christmas Yet to Come? While we cannot go back and change the past, we can live in the present as those transformed by the reality of Christmas. And we can live as reflections of the hope, joy, peace and love of Christ as we give Him away for every Christmas Yet to Come.
Wondering what to give this Christmas to everyone on your list? Just re-gift Jesus. Let the presence of Christ redeem Christmas Present and every Christmas Future.