The Ghost of Christmas Present: A Journey Into Joy
From the prison to the poor-house, Scrooge discovers what life requires of us who have been given so much. He also learns what life exacts from others when we hoard our resources and live from a place of scarcity rather than abundance.
The opening scene of Stave Three introduces us to the Ghost of Christmas Present. Dickens invites the reader to imagine a lavish feast at a King’s table. A table overflowing with bounty and abundance.
Upon entering the room, Scrooge casts his eyes on The Ghost of Christmas Present. This Ghost doesn’t enter Scrooge’s bedroom. Instead, he settles into to Scrooges living area – fills it with his abundant presence – and invites Scrooge to join him.
Indeed, abundance extended to one is an abundance designed to be shared with all.
We Become What We Gaze Upon
After allowing Scrooge a moment to scan his now enchanted room, the Ghost encourages, indeed commands, Scrooge to look upon him.
It’s as if he is asking Scrooge to ponder him.
It’s an invitation for Scrooge to gaze upon him and reflect upon the abundant and generous nature which emanates from his presence.
The Ghost of Christmas Present offers a stark contradiction to the man Scrooge has been all of his life.
Indeed, the miser-of-a-man he has become shrinks in the shadow of this Ghost, whose fare is so exceedingly abundant that every corner of life finds hope in his midst.
In no particular order, here are the visits (most of them) which the Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge make together:
- A London city fly-over that’s depicted as the picture-perfect Christmas scene.
- A stop by Cratchit’s meager Christmas Dinner.
- A visit to a miserable mining field.
- A fly-by over a lone light-house, keeping watch over the seas by night.
- A stop on a ship in the midst of the desolate sea, miles and miles away from home.
- A final landing at his nephew’s raucous Christmas party where mocking Scrooge himself is the main event.
The Want That Knows Joy
In my mind, what stands out in all of these scenes is that no matter the plight of the people, Christmas joy cannot – will not – be turned away.
Even the miserable misfortunes of Bob Cratchit’s family are framed within an expression of gratitude, grace, and its own kind of glory.
The joy Scrooge encounters in the midst of abject poverty – stemming from structural oppression – also serves as a stark contrast to the life Scrooge has lived, and the loneliness he now feels.
As he encounters one scene after the other – everyone dripping with its own sort of despair and filled with its own unique delight – Scrooge is forced to gaze upon himself and face the punishment that these moments afford.
It’s hard to get out of one’s way when one is consumed with oneself.
Scrooge, who enjoyed the financial advantages of the upper-class and all the influence that entails, was bereft of joy. His bankruptcy of joy and cheer stood in stark contrast to the plenty he’d accumulated in a lifetime of self-absorption.
He begins to recognize that even poverty – poverty of the most desperate kind – cannot extinguish joy when such joy is birthed from one’s heart and tethered to one’s hope.
When We Are The Remedy
Dickens, who pictures Scrooge as one who often has all the answers, now finds himself filled with questions. He is ever asking questions like “Ghost, is there no remedy?” And, “Ghost, what’s to come?”
In one scene Scrooge implores the Ghost on behalf Tiny Tim’s future. The Ghost reveals that he sees an empty chair at the table and a crutch with no owner, against the wall. These things (an empty chair and crutch with no owner) will be if they stay as they are.
Scrooge hangs his head in disbelief and despair as the Ghost levels his sternest rebuke of them all:
“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked can’t until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!” Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and, trembling, cast his eyes upon the ground.
Here lies the crux of the matter. It’s not Scrooge’s money that is at the heart of the issue. It’s not even his greed with which the Ghost is most concerned.
Instead, it’s the wanton way Scrooge’s greed keeps him from nurturing meaningful, life-long relationships. Relationships that drip with joy if he’d only have the eyes to see and the heart to hope.
His greed blinds him to the love that is all around him.
Greed always keeps us blinded to God’s glory and the probability of His good being mediated through us!
Ignorance is No Excuse
In the last scene, just before the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come enters, Scrooge spies a bulging protrusion from the Ghost’s robe. When asked about what grows within, the Ghost opens his cloak to reveal some of the most despairing and disgusting human-like creatures in all of literature. Dickens’ depiction is so explicit, it’s worth quoting in its entirety:
“They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.”
Scrooge, undone by this revelation, asks the Ghost of these ghastly children’s origin. To which the Ghost replies that these children belong to Scrooge himself, as a representative of the type of humankind that has birthed them.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” The bell struck Twelve.”
Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say
Scrooge own words, “are there no prisons,” are once again set forth as a mirror demanding that Scrooge reflect on the life he has lived, the pain he has caused, and the hope to which he may yet attach himself. Hope that’s more than enough for him but also able to bring good to the world he’s neglecting in the life of greed he’s living!
And there you have it.
Willful ignorance is not an acceptable excuse. Willful ignorance is culpable in the crime and, as such – those who claim it – are punishable for the society in which such sickness is birthed.
Next, we meet the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come who greets Scrooge with the prospect of death, a death that could yet be averted!
Disrupting to Renew!