A Christmas Carol:  Fear of the Future

   Written by on December 21, 2017 at 1:19 pm

logo-smith-gregFor the past two weeks, we’ve talked about Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic A Christmas Carol.  Like Scrooge, many people are haunted by ghosts of their past—but God wants to cleanse that past and offer us a better present.  Both Dickens and scripture remind us that present need is all around us, and that it is our obligation as children of God and citizens of this planet to relieve the suffering of our fellow human beings.  As the shadow of the future looms before us, many of us shrink back in fear—but Scrooge shows that fear doesn’t have to paralyze you.  Instead, it can be a great motivator of change.

As the hooded, Grim-Reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come appears to Ebenezer Scrooge, it shows him three wealthy businessmen joking about the death of some nameless person.  Next, Scrooge sees that dead person’s belongings being stolen and sold off.  He sees that person’s shrouded corpse, and begs the hooded ghost not to unmask the deceased.  He begs the ghost to show him somebody who has emotion for the dead person.  The ghost shows him somebody who owed the dead man money, glad to have extra time to pay off the bill.  Then the ghost shows him the family of Scrooge’s clerk Bob Cratchig, grieving the death of their sickly boy Tiny Tim.  Finally, the spirit takes Scrooge to a cemetery, where Scrooge sees his own grave, realizing himself to be the dead man that the people had mocked.  Scrooge is terrified by this glimpse into his own future and implores the spirit for an opportunity to change and

“sponge away the writing on this stone.”  … “Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

When Scrooge awakes from his vision, his heart is changed and warmed.  Filled not just with Christmas spirit but charity and goodwill toward his fellow human beings, Scrooge is inspired to renew broken relationships, and provide the financial support necessary to save Tiny Tim’s life.  Though Scrooge had to face his fearful future, that same fear became the means necessary to work necessary change in his life.

When you think about it, the Christmas story is a pretty fearful one.  In Luke 1, an angel appears to Zechariah to foretell the birth of John the Baptist.  But in verse 13, the angel tells him not to be afraid.  He and his wife Elizabeth have wanted a child their whole marriage, but were unable to conceive.  Now that they are old, certainly there are fearful aspects to childbirth.  But the angel’s words reassure them that God’s plan is at work.  They do, however, have a choice whether or not to participate in that plan.  But the angel’s reassurance shows them that, though the future may be fearful, God is still in control.

Also in Luke 1, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, to predict the conception of the Messiah, God in the flesh.  Certainly this is a fearful announcement, considering she is a virgin engaged to be married, and there are social and legal repercussions for conception outside of marriage.  But in verses 28 and 30, the angel says, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”   Mary is not forced into premarital motherhood—God gives her a choice, and she willingly submits, declaring, “I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.” (verse 38)  In both of these accounts, Elizabeth and Mary are told about their own futures which involve difficult circumstances, yet they are reminded not to be afraid, because God is with them.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, sometimes our pasts can conjure up images of pain and disappointment.  Our present circumstances can call us to unfamiliar action that puts us outside of our comfort zone.  Our futures may loom like a specter before us so that, like Scrooge, we ask whether the future may yet be changed by an altered life.  However frightening the ghosts of past, present, and future may be, they are the agents that call us to repentance, change, and redemption.  Maybe this holiday season, you find yourself haunted by frightening memories, current challenges, or fears of the future.  Rather than being daunted, may these apparitions give you cause for celebration.  As the spirits who appeared to Scrooge ultimately brought him hope, so the angels who manifested to Elizabeth and Mary promised God’s blessing.  So also the Lord tells you not to fear—for what lies before you is an opportunity to say “yes” to God’s call.

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County, VA with his wife and children. To read more of Greg’s writings check out his blog at revgregsmith.blogspot.com.

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