“Come in, -- come in! and know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!” - Charles Dickens
Of all Christmas stories, save the story of that first Advent, none may be better known than Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. It’s a story that reminds us that no man, no matter how vile or cold, is beyond redemption. It’s a story that awakens within us the hope that things can change, and people can as well.
Of all the renditions of this classic tale, I find none better than The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s one that I find myself returning to each year. I know the story, I can sing the songs. And yet year after year I come back to this film.
In the film, as in the original novel, the main character Scrooge is met by three spirits. Each one has something to offer, and then each one leaves Scrooge to either remember or forget the lesson that was taught. After these beings left, Scrooge was alone. It was up to him to change.
Such a tale can, and should, move all of us. But for many of us, we believe that this story is the story of Christmas. We may not say it aloud, but far too often our lives say that this is our belief. We gather ‘round and remember that we have been visited, not by one of Dicken’s Christmas ghosts but by the King of Christmas.
We read through the account of Christ’s coming. We may even light an Advent candle as a reminder. We sing in worship of Immanuel, God with us. But for many, Christmas does not feel like a reminder that God is with us now...but that He visited and it’s up to us to remember the lesson.
We theologically know that Christ will be with us always (Matt. 28:20b) but often it feels like Christ is more like the Ghost of Christmas Present. We love it when He is there, but after a day or so he fades away. And when that happens we are left with the speechless ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
We can read the Christmas story in Scripture and wish that we could have been there. We wish that we could have followed the start and seen the manger. If only we had been there…
But the story of Christmas, the true story, is not that we have been visited but that God is with us now. The story of this season is that we don’t have to learn a lesson like Scrooge and hope that we remember it. The true story is not that we were visited by a Spirit, but that we are filled and sealed by the Spirit (Ep. 1:13, 5:18).
Christ did not come to give s a taste of what is to come and leave us desolate. He came to give us life, not only in a world to come but in the one we now find ourselves in (John 10:10b). He came not to make us better, but to make us new (Ez. 36:26). He did not come and show us a glimpse of what life could be like if we were better but promised that He would be the one who would make us so (Phil. 1:6).
So as you unwrap your gifts and eat your Christmas meals, remember that Christ has come. But do not let yourself stay there. For not only did He come, but even now He is here. He welcomes us to draw near to Him, and promises that He will draw near to us when we do (James 4:8).
For unlike the ghosts of Dicken’s tale, Christ does not show us what could be as a challenge to improve and then leave us alone. Christ came to stay. Christ was not once Immanuel and now is such no more. He is with us always, working in and through us for it is His good pleasure to do so (Phil. 2:13).