This Christmas we have been telling stories—Frederick and his fellow mice, sustaining themselves with stories of light and colour, in the dark of winter. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, about how one community retold the Nativity story, with an unexpected cast of characters. The Magician’s Nephew, about the Creation story of another world. The long Christmas lived by one Roman soldier, until he found himself in the story. All of these stories share something in common—they weren’t just entertaining, in each case, the story changed those who heard it, you could even say that the story called them into a new kind of life. The is what the story of Christmas does.
There is one more story, perhaps the most famous one, of how Christmas changed the life of someone who opened his heart to the story. Charles Dicken’s beloved classic, A Christmas Carol, tells of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, visited in a single night by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The ghosts show him, not the beginning of Christ’s life, but the account of his own life, into which Christ has never been allowed to be born and to live. Scrooge witnesses how it has affected him, how keeping Christ out has shrunk and twisted him into a creature of things, not soul. And he sees how he has affected the lives of those around him, year by year. I think that the story of Scrooge resonates with us so profoundly because Christmas makes us think about time.
This festival that comes just at the ending of another year reminds inevitably of the ticking of the clock. Going through familiar rituals calls back memories of the past, holidays we have known with loved ones, here or in different places. The poignancy of those memories can be overwhelming, as we think of those we have lost. Christmas can never be shared in exactly the same way, twice. Our celebration, exchanging gifts and enjoying feasts, draws our attention to those who don’t have such abundance in their lives right now. Even as we gather for a holiday dedicated to peace on earth, goodwill towards men, we know that the present reality of much of the world is that peace and good will are scarcely to be found. There is so much need—need for us, for who we are, and who we can be. That is the promise of Christmas future—what new things could be, because we let the story change us? None of us knows how many Christmases we have remaining to us. That’s what Scrooge realizes. We don’t know how many more chances we will have, to give to others, to give of our substance and ourselves, in ways that will make a difference. That’s why Scrooge’s story ends with a resolution to keep Christmas every day. Not to reserve generosity for one day in the year. When he really let himself experience the story, once isn’t enough. He wants it to transform all of his life. He wants to live in the story, because he has discovered that Christ’s story is real, and true, in a way that the life Scrooge had made for himself, with himself as its center and goal, wasn’t.
This can the day when we get off the hamster wheel of our tawdry reality, if we dare to, and enter the true story. We can, you know, at any moment. One way to enter it, of course, is to be summoned from it in the way we can’t escape, the end that calls us all, eventually, from this world of shadows and distortions, into the truth. But we don’t have to wait. We can welcome Christ into our lives each day, and celebrate his birth by letting it call us to a new kind of life—a life that reaches out and lights the way for other lives. A life that tells the story of that birth. What part of that story could you tell, every day? There are so many interesting pieces: with the innkeepers, making room, when we thought there wasn’t any to spare. With the wise men, looking up at the stars and finding a mystery. With the donkey, bearing a heavy load, or walking beside someone who is. With the Evangelists, remembering the past, letting it speak to present and future. With the shepherds, keeping watch, over little ones. With Joseph, helping to raise someone else’s child, mentoring and teaching. With Mary, p
ondering all these things in your heart. There are so many ways, and one of them is yours. How will you live in the story, and tell it, this year?