If ever there was a film to demonstrate the power of a good story this is surely it. The tale of Charles Dickens attempting to write A Christmas Carol, in just 6 weeks. We are told at the end of the film (and this is not really a spoiler) that charitable giving increased after the book went on sale. So, it was a kind of Children in Need or Comic Relief of its day. It entertained and gripped its readers, enlightened them and inspired folks to live a little differently.
It’s 1843 and after huge success with his book Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens crashes down to earth with three flops. Life is suddenly not sweet, what to do? Then he hears the new nanny Tara telling stories to his children, chats to her and gets an idea about ghosts and Christmas. He bumps into an old grumpy, curmudgeonly businessman in a graveyard at night. And bingo! Scrooge is born. Though it takes him quite a lot of tramping up and down his room and hurling words beginning with ‘Sc…’ around before he lands on the name. And when he finally does, the character appears.
Dickens is a generous man who despises poverty, he can’t help but give money to every beggar he meets in the street, but the dastardly Scrooge that he creates is just the opposite. He loves darkness because it is ‘cheap’! It costs nothing to produce, no oil, no candles, no matches. And so Dickens crafts a tale of a man totally chewed up by greed and wealth, who can’t bear the thought of Christmas and the kindness and generosity it ushers in. And it’s not just Scrooge who is flummoxed by Christmas, his publishers are less than amused.
There is a saying that recurs in this film, one that Charles learned from his father: ‘No one is useless who lightens the load of another.’ I like that, it’s a great piece of encouragement. Years ago I came across Shane Claiborne’s quote, and have often repeated it since, ‘Get ready, because God is preparing you for something very, very…. small. Because it’s small things that change the world.’ I often wonder if I am doing much good on this planet, it’s easy to question yourself and doubt your value and usefulness. Ultimately I do believe that our real worth is found and rediscovered again and again in the Creator who crafted us, and loves us endlessly. And it’s that that spurs us on to try and live just a little differently. Jesus spoke of his heavenly father knowing and valuing the small things that we do. (Matthew 6 v 4) Shane Claiborne lives in a community in a poor part of Philadelphia and when he is sometimes asked how they do evangelism there, he replies, ‘We shout the gospel with our daily living.’ I hope that I may, possibly, mumble it every so often. Just once in a while. I recently came across this encouraging verse from the book of Daniel chapter 10, verse 19. Daniel is terrified, and is reassured by an angelic messenger: ‘Don’t be afraid, you are very precious to God. Be encouraged. Be strong.’ Little, vital messages like this spur me on. We are precious – not because of what we do or don’t achieve, but because there is One who made us, understands us and loves us. In a world where we look to so many things for affirmation, this is the best news of all.