One of my favorite holiday stories is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This tale has been retold so many times that we forget how truly awesome it is.
I love Ebenezer Scrooge and the spooky Victorian setting. I love the “bah humbugs” and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit’s single piece of coal. I love the freaky ghosts and the complete head-trip they pull on Ebenezer to show him the light.
Of course, most of all, I love the dramatic transformation that happens at the end. If someone as big of a jerk as Scrooge could do such a 180, then surely any of us have the potential for change.
But I don’t want to talk about Scrooge today. Every time I read this story, the guy who always sticks with me is Jacob Marley. Marley is Scrooge’s dead partner, the first specter who warns Ebenezer of the three others to come. He is the poster boy for missed opportunity, the guy who came to the end of his life and realized he’d lived it for all the wrong things.
I love this exchange between Marley and Scrooge:
“’But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”
Every time I read that it gets me. Imagine living your entire life thinking you were a huge success and then finding out you were actually a total failure.
The scariest part of this ghost story is that don’t have to be a miser to waste your life like Marley and Scrooge. We all get consumed with our own personal business. That could be our careers and our stuff but it could also be going to the gym or shopping. It could Facebook or Fantasy Football or just burying our noses in an iPhone all day.
It’s not like most of us are Scrooges, but it is easy to get so busy and distracted that we forget why we’re here in the first place – to love God and love people. It’s like the guy who works hard to climb an enormous ladder and realizes he’s leaned it against the wrong wall. Great effort, but what’s the point?
Sometimes the same could be said of the holidays. Plenty of effort, but so what? What if we finish all the shopping lists, wrap all the gifts, host all the dinners, decorate the house, get to all the school programs and end up so stressed out that we miss out on the best part, the opportunity to be a blessing to people? Ironically you can be full of “Christmas spirit” and still miss the point of Christmas.
The Bible says you can do all kinds of amazing things with your life, but without love, they’re useless. The holidays and every day, can be so much more. Do you know someone who’s lonely who just needs a friend? How about your neighbor who’s down on his luck and could use an anonymous bag of groceries? Or is there someone in your life who just needs some kindness, forgiveness and grace, and you’re the one who can give it to them?
If you could write the ending to this holiday season, what would it look like? What would you accomplish? What would be your “business” as Marley calls it? Of course, the good news is, we can write that ending to be whatever we want it to be.
Today we have the power to do good. Today we have the opportunity to touch a life and make a difference. Today we can remember that people are our business, and this Christmas it’s up to us to make sure that business is good.