One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the overpowering presence of the spirit of joy, love, charity and peace. You can’t deny it. Hundreds of years of storytelling, traditions and songs have engraved this into the heart of our culture. No matter what your background is, we are all immersed in the same sights and sounds. This is a time of year when we come face to face with the beauty and importance of giving, of loving, of facing our hearts out to the needs of others rather than in on ourselves.
As the lights twinkle and the songs and bells fills the air, we are also reminded of the fact that we all see a bit of Scrooge when we look in the mirror. Selfishness, bitterness and greed are ugly things. He who gives and loves is infinitely richer than the one that has everything and holds tightly to it. We know that we need less stuff and more charity. Yes. And off we go, walking briskly past the Salvation Army guy with his bell, on into the giant shining places where we get more stuff.
These thoughts got me rethinking and rereading the story of Scrooge and his Christmas Eve transformation. And yet the story left me even more unsatisfied. If you remember,Scrooge becomes a better, kinder and more loving person because he was faced with death and the emptiness of his own life. Guilt is what drove the crotchety old man to a sort of repentance and conversion of life. He reformed his relationship to his fellow man when he finally saw the emptiness of the life he currently lived.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the story. But is that really how it works? Do we become kinder, more serving and charitable people, when we face the ugliness of our selfishness and are overcome with guilt? Is this a powerful enough motive to rouse us out of our greed? It is a big enough force to turn our focus away from ourselves and above our own interests? How many times have you noticed your own imperfections and vowed to be a better person?
Maybe you’ve never considered it. But this is actually the perpetual state that many of us live in. We look to some standard, we are moved by guilt, and we are ever trying to claw our way up the muddy hill of self transformation. It doesn’t work. Just take a step back and look at the thousands of years of human history that we have on file. We have not gotten better over time.
Sure, you may have a short term season of change when you aspire to be a better person. But at the end of the day, we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We can aspire to be better. We can repent. We can make new years resolutions. But a truly changed heart only comes from outside ourselves. It must come from a love bigger than our own. It must come from a beauty more magnificent than our own.
Inevitably the path then leads back to the name around which Christmas holiday is named. Jesus is not merely another example of charity, sacrifice and love. Jesus is the escape latter from the dungeon of the self. Jesus presents to us the entrance of an alien love. A love that we could never muster. A love that we could never attain. He has come to lift us up out of ourselves. He has come to fill our hearts and to turn our gaze to the needs of the world around.