John Fuller: There’s a Christmas story that’s almost as universally known as the birth of Christ and let me give you a couple of hints and see if you can guess what it is. “Bah, humbug!” And “God bless us, everyone.” Well, today, on Focus on the Family, we’re going to explore the very familiar story of A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens in 1843. It has some wonderful themes and spiritual insights that are still very relevant to our families today. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I was shocked by this, but there’s more than 130 different versions of the Christmas Carol.
Jim: Yeah, 130.
Jim: I haven’t seen all of them. (laughs)
John: I haven’t seen half of them.
Jim: Well, let me, uh, remind our listeners and our viewers, the most famous ones, uh, of course included Mickey Mouse (laughs) and George C. Scott,-
Jim: …Jim Carrey and the Muppets.
John: I’m… Yes.
Jim: How about those versions?
John: I remember those, yes.
Jim: Wide ranging. And one thing they all have in common is the villain we both love and hate-
Jim: …Ebenezer Scrooge. He was a terrible, yet, uh, insightful man. Right?
Jim: At the end.
John: At the end, yes.
Jim: Uh, our family has loved the Christmas Carol from the beginning, and especially Jean. She loves, uh, hearing that story again and again, because it has so many wonderful themes, uh, for the whole season. Gratefulness, caring for the needy, redemption, of course. Uh, we see the greedy and uncaring Scrooge transformed into a new man, which reflects the truth found in 2 Corinthians 5:17. If anyone is in Christ, he’s a new creation.
Jim: The old has passed away, and behold, the new has come. And that really is the message of Christmas, right? Today on the eve of the beginning of the Advent season, uh, we thought it would be appropriate to give this classic tale another review with our guest today.
John: And we have a great guest, uh, who has studied this material extensively. Uh, Allison Pittman is an author, speaker, English teacher and novelist, and she wants to help kind of illuminate, uh, the Christian worldview we find in literature. Uh, she’s written a book that we’ll hear more about today, Keeping Christmas: 25 Advent Reflections on A Christmas Carol, and, uh, it is a terrific resource.
John: Look for your copy at our website, focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, and, uh, typically, we’d say give us a call, but the offices are closed today for the holiday weekend. You can call on Monday, though. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Allison, welcome to Focus.
Allison Pittman: Thank you so much for having me.
Jim: I’m always intimidated with an English teacher.
Jim: I don’t know why. You guys scare the heebie jeebies out of me.
Allison: Don’t be. Don’t be.
Jim: Oh, man. That’s true. Was that… Uh. How did you do in English, John?
John: Um. It was one of my better classes-
Jim: Oh, that’s good.
John: … but not my best.
Jim: I like that. Well, he’s comfortable.
Allison: Okay, good.
Jim: It is good to have you here.
Allison: Thank you.
Jim: Uh. Let’s start with how you describe yourself as a Dickens enthusiast. What does it mean to be an enthusiastic Dickens follower?
Allison: I think, you know, people, especially today, people who weren’t really comfortable in their English classes-
Allison: …can these, can be really intimidated by the text of his stories-
Allison: …and his writing style. And for me, it’s not only do I think he’s the best storyteller-
Allison: …um, he always had these weird characters that never would fit into his society or into our society, always have these rough edges and strange names. And when you’re reading a Dickens novel, everything seems so spread out and splayed out. And you’re thinking, how is this ever going to weave together into a story? And he just takes these strands, and it’s just an adventure to dive into his text, to just really run around in his words, and his diction, and his syntax, and spool it all out and then put it all together. And I feel like you’ve accomplished something, like, when you get through an entire Dickens novel, and you, everybody should do that. I would say start with Great Expectations. You know, you get to the end, and it’s like, I’ve done something.
Allison: I’ve accomplished something.
Jim: Man, did you land in the right vocation, or what?
Jim: That’s amazing.
Allison: (laughs). I absolutely did. Yes.
Jim: I felt the same way about football.
Jim: Hey, let me ask you, though, I understand that you use A Christmas Carol as a teaching tool in your classes-
Allison: I do.
Jim: …which is outstanding. And you encourage people to use this classic story, uh, when they share their faith. How does that work?
Allison: Well, uh, I teach at a Christian school now, but my, most of my teaching career, I was in public school-
Allison: …and I taught high school English. And so, I could read A Christmas Carol because it, it fit in with the curriculum-
Allison: …reading classic authors. But I could also teach this message of redemption, this message of find something bigger than yourself. And the way that Scrooge learns to love Christmas and embrace Christmas, I mean, to me, the metaphor has always been that he’s embraced Christ, but you can’t… I could never separate the two of them. And just the idea that you need to own your sin, you need to read recognize what it is, and you need to seek something better in your life. And I could teach the gospel message sort of hidden in this story the whole time that I was in public school. And then when I was in private Christian school, I could really, really dive down because these kids had all of the vocabulary for it, to really pick up on the metaphor.
Allison: And sometimes I would say, you might not feel comfortable sharing the gospel, you might not know how to share the gospel, but if you can retell this story from this angle, it’s, to me, it’s a short step to the gospel.
Jim: Without a doubt. And you mentioned that in the book-
Jim: …that you grew up in a Christian home, and you were well versed in Christian things.
Jim: But the story, this story, really caught your attention.
Jim: It… That’s an interesting disconnect. I was curious about that. Why?
Jim: Why, you know, you can be sitting at church and understand these things. And of course, Dickens, it seems, wrote this-
Jim: …from that Christian perspective. We’re gonna continue to unroll that for the listeners. Uh. But why do you think that disconnect was there?
Allison: Yeah, my mother would probably kill me for even… (laughs).
Jim: No, this is where it… This is the question we need to know.
Allison: Yes, yes.
Allison: And I, uh, had to clear this with her. But I, I always had the separation. Christmas was Christmas and church was church.
Allison: And even with a Nativity scene, and with the baby Jesus, and all of that, it, I never really folded it all together, until I started seeing all of the symbolism and metaphor in here. And that doesn’t, they’re gonna kick me off the show.
Allison: It doesn’t mean I didn’t get it. But I didn’t get it for this book-
Allison: …where I could say wait a minute, wait a minute. This is, this is Christ. This is not just becoming a better man; this is Scrooge becoming redeemed. And I, I never really put that message of the season in with redemption.
Allison: And I don’t know why.
Jim: An- an- and we are gonna unfold that because there are so many, uh, I guess, uh, you know, examples-
Jim: …in the story that point to the gospel.
Jim: And we’re gonna do that. But you also had kind of years as a prodigal.
Jim: And you know, so many people that may have a twenty something son or daughter, uh, they’re experiencing that right now. But the Lord really did use this story to turn you back toward Him. Right?
Allison: Yeah. I, um… And I’m a- a- a mother of 3 twenty something prodigals. (laughs).
Jim: Right. Right. Right.
Allison: So, I think that that’s, um… And that’s something that as a Christian parent, you know, you, you’re always sort of worried about.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
Allison: And when you’re, uh, when you’re in that space, I think that’s just the beauty of God’s mercy in that He’s never moves. He is immobile in His love.
Allison: And He is immobile in His grace. And we can stretch ourselves out as far as we’re gonna stretch out, but we always have that same place to go back to.
Allison: Um. And I, I know that my parents had their times of, of worry, and I have my times of worry. And, but I think parents out there, if you know that you have brought your child up in the way that he should go, you know, scripture says he won’t depart.
Jim: Well, it says when he is old.
Allison: When he is… Yeah.
Jim: That’s a little intimidating.
Allison: Sometimes, they look like they are-
Jim: It’s a promise.
Allison: …just departing. They look like they’re just on their way.
Allison: But I, I think it’s so important for Christian parents to remain as immobile as God is for our own redemption.
Allison: One of my, you know, credos I go by is not to ever sever, you know, not to ever make your child think that they can’t come home-
Allison: …or they can’t come back.
Jim: Keep the relationship strong.
Allison: You’ve gotta keep that relationship.
Jim: Well, Allison, let’s dig into the content.
Jim: Uh. You’ve identified some profound spiritual lessons that we can all glean from the Dickens story, and one is, uh, you know, Marley-
Jim: …is that character, and you equate Marley, and I think Dickens was also doing this, as the rich man in Luke chapter 16. There’s that analogy.
Jim: And what is that analogy?
Allison: Well, I love in that, in, in the scripture, the, the man says, you know, “Will you please go and warn, um, my friends?” And, and they said, “Well, if they’re not gonna listen to me, what makes you think they’re gonna listen to a dead man? It’s like, Dickens is like, hey, maybe somebody would listen to a dead man. There’s all, and I’m kicking myself because this scripture didn’t get into the book, and I don’t know how, um, but it’s 1 Timothy 6, where Paul says, warn your rich friends, warn your friends not to rely on their money, um, not to rely on their riches, because they’re not going to carry those over. Only in God do we have that safety. And so that’s what Marley is. He’s this warning. Do not do what I did. And what I love is that Marley’s not gonna benefit from this at all. Marley’s fate is sealed. Marley is what Marley’s gonna be. So, he’s acting altruistically for his friend, just to say-
Allison: …you don’t want to end up like this. You don’t want to be like this. Um. So, but he has to show him where his fate is.
Jim: Yeah. In- in extending that, in the book of Mark, there’s that, um, rich young ruler that Jesus meets-
Jim: I think it’s in Mark 10. And you also give a comparison to that painful goodbye. Describe it.
Allison: That i- idea that you, um, have to leave behind everything that you know and love.
Jim: Recap the scripture for us.
Jim: What does Jesus say to that rich young ruler?
Allison: He says-
Jim: Sell everything. (laughs).
Allison: Sell everything. Yep. Get rid of, of all of it.
Allison: If you want to follow me, you have to get rid of everything. And that’s, you know, relationships too, and that, that, that could be friendships. It could be all kinds of things. But he says, yeah, you want to, you have to sell everything. You have to follow me with nothing.
Jim: And that really is Scrooge’s issue.
Allison: And I think the one thing that we have to remember about Scrooge, I think, gets lost, or gets sort of misinterpreted. There’s just this little line where it’s describing Scrooge’s lonely, sad, cold life. But there’s a line where, uh, Dickens says, “And he liked it.” We want to think that Scrooge was miserable and sad and lonely. He wasn’t. This is what he chose for himself.
Allison: You know, he, he liked the way that he was living. So even that aspect of his life that he liked, he would have to get rid of.
Jim: Yeah, that’s an interesting concept, actually, that he was quite comfortable-
Jim: …in being Scrooge. I mean, that is what we say, “You’re a Scrooge.”
Jim: Right? And that means you’re tight with your money. You don’t like many people.
Allison: Mm-hmm. People don’t like you.
Jim: You’re not very friendly.
Jim: Right? I mean, that is what it is. It’s a descriptor-
Jim: …which is amazing.
Jim: Um. Ebenezer Scrooge, uh, has that vision of his future where he’s without friends or comforts or family. And all of his wealth is meaningless at that point, which is, which is the point, that you can’t put your hope in money.
Jim: Uh. Contrast that to the hope we find in Matthew 6 about storing up treasures in heaven.
Allison: You know, they’re, they’re… We can’t access them here, right? Um. And those things that we have stored up are acts of righteousness, the relationships that, that we have formed, the love that we’ll have, the worship that we’ll have. Everything there is waiting. And it can be hard when you’re here, and feeling like you’re missing out, or you’re losing out, or there’s something that you don’t have. But the things that are truly valuable in life aren’t tangible. You know, they’re, they’re not just as intangible as riches that are stored up in heaven.
John: Well, this is fascinating. And you’re listening to Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Allison Pittman is our guest today. She’s written this book, Keeping Christmas: 25 Advent Reflections on A Christmas Carol, a terrific little resource. And as we begin the advent season, we’ll encourage you to get a copy of that book Keeping Christmas. We have that here at the ministry, and you’ll find it at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Allison, you also, in the book, identify some powerful parallels between A Christmas Carol and the Bible in that you give an example how Scrooge denied Christmas three times, similar to what Peter did about denying Christ.
Jim: So, give that parallel to us.
Allison: Well, in the opening scene, the opening stave, there are three different times where Scrooge is wished a Merry Christmas, and he bah humbugs it, um, with, uh, Cratchit, with the collectors of charity, and then his nephew, Fred. And I think when that clicked, that’s kind of when the entire idea of the book clicked-
Allison: …that it could be more than just the sim… ‘Cause I, I was at first looking at just the symbolism of, of the ghost. I thought, well this is something else, that he denies and denies and denies. But then, as we know, he is redeemed after that-
Allison: …night, that you would think, well, you’re out of here, (laughs) you know? Uh. But Christ comes back to him, and solely to him, and restores him, and he becomes this leader, right? Um. And so, Scrooge is the same. At- At the end, even though we see him, where he hates Christmas in terms of his family, in terms of working with the poor, in terms of his own poor clerk who’s there trying to work. He also, though, gets redeemed, but only when his own words are thrown back at him. He comes face to face with what he said that night in his denial. In his denial of Christmas, those very words come back to him at the end. And that’s what, you know, we have to face. We have to face our sins; we have to name them and say them in order for that redemption to happen.
Jim: Well, in taking that a little further. That’s the whole point, right? That you’ve got to look at your own shortcomings, your own sins, and that’s what the whole story is about-
Jim: …in essence.
Allison: That’s why he has to go through the past, and he has to see where he was a victim, you know, when he was little and he was abandoned and all of that, but also where he made specific choices that put him on the path that he was eventually came on.
Jim: Absolutely. One of the most stark reminders you share is about the link between Christmas and death. I mean, that’s the kind of crescendo of the movie, right?
Jim: A Christmas Carol begins with the death of Jacob Marley. Eh. Why is it so important to reflect upon death during the Christmas season? I mean, we see this as the newborn life, right?
Jim: This is the baby who has been sent to give us salvation.
Allison: Yes, and then, but we also know that this is the baby who is going to die a horrific death for the redemption of, of us, and for the payment of our sins. And it’s fun to talk about the baby Jesus and that sweet story, but we also know that he was born to be a sacrifice, that this is what his purpose was. So, starting with Marley was dead to begin with… Also, the Victorian audience, you know, and we all love a ghost story, right? We all love a little bit of a spooky story, and something that sort of clues us in. So, uh, Dickens works on that level too. Like, we’re gonna start and you’re going to think this is this dark and spooky, fun, entertaining story. And it’s just gonna sort of sneak up on you what it’s actually about. And with the story of Jesus, not a story, but with his life, you know, we center around that beautiful nativity scene, but then it sneaks up on us. If we follow His journey, and we follow His life, that’s where it ultimately leads to is His death and His resurrection.
Jim: Mm-hmm. Allison, one thing that, that caught my attention… And I don’t know about you, John, but for me, occasionally, I have the bah humbug when-
Jim: …the person on the corner is there with the sign. I’m going, “Okay. I mean, it’s tax-free income.” I’m doing the bah humbug thing.
Jim: And, you know, as someone who I respect as a Jewish scholar, uh, Ray VanderLaan, who’s done that the world may know. I was with him in Israel, and he always put change, a little bit of change in every cup of every beggar that he went by in Jerusalem or Bethlehem, wherever he were. And he just said to the group, “God expects you to acknowledge the poor by doing that every time.” That’s convicting to me, because we can rationalize it, oh, we have welfare programs. But the story is telling us to take care of the poor directly.
Allison: It, it does. And that’s what, that’s what Dickens wanted to do. That was his main mission was to say, you need to take care of the poor. And in the first edition of the book, it was printed on, you know, with fine leather cover, and gilded pages, and color illustrations. It was a very expensive book, expensive to publish, expensive to buy, because he knew his audience who needed to read this book are the ones who could afford to read this book.
Allison: For a lot of his writing career, he published cereals and newspapers and, you know, published on the cheap, but this, he’s like, I want the people who can afford to make a difference, to buy this book and read this story, and be changed by it and make a difference.
Allison: And I think there are times when you can put money in a cup, because you have money. There are times when you can’t. And, which, I don’t think that that’s the, um, that’s the convicting moment. But if you can help, and you don’t, that, to me, is where the lesson is.
Allison: When it’s there and you can do it, and you rationalize it away, because of convenience, because of time, because, oh, they’re just going to spend it on liquor or something like that-
Allison: …you know? Let that sand be on their head. That’s what we see in that first stave, when all… There’s a woman in A Christmas Carol. There’s a woman on the street and she’s sick, and she’s cold, and she’s holding a child, and they’re probably going to die of hypothermia that night. We can assume that Scrooge walked right past her at some point. But he looks out in the courtyard, and the courtyard is full of all of these spirits who want to help her, and they keep flying towards her but they’re a spirit, right? They can’t touch. They can’t, they can’t they can’t do anything. And that is their torment about not being able to help the poor. And I would say if, if you were able to do something, and you’re feeling that prompting of the spirit to do something, don’t ignore that.
Allison: God repays tenfold, right?
Jim: Yeah, that’s so good. You spoke to your children about making Christmas-
Jim: …better and I think this kind of does move toward tying the bow in the Christmas gift and the-
Jim: …Christmas story here, but, um, what did you observe and what did you teach your kids when it comes to really knowing, uh, the connection between Christmas and generosity?
Allison: You know, we, um, had a… We sat down one time with our boys, I think they were like, 6 and 10, and we said, what did, what did we get you for Christmas last year? What did you get for Christmas? And not one of them could name a thing-
Allison: …that they had for Christmas. They named things that they had, but none of those had been Christmas gifts. And it was just this idea that, you know, I remember the Christmas before, knocking ourselves out, scrinching in the, the budget, trying to find enough money for this, you know? Going on Black Friday sales to make sure I got two of something because I have twins and knocking people over in the aisle probably to get it. Sorry, lady.
Jim: (laughs). Bah humbug.
Allison: Bah humbug, right?
Allison: And they couldn’t name a single gift, they couldn’t name a single thing.
Allison: And so, for that Christmas, we, we, we took a vacation together instead. We’re like, we’re not buying you anything. We’re not buying you any presents. Because in that same conversation, I said, “Do you remember when we went to…” We had gone to, um, Atlanta a few months before, and they could recall all kinds of moments about that. And even, especially because we’ve just come out of a Christmas where so many of us had to be isolated and separated from each other. You know, we just have to remember that, while the, the core of it is, of course, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, He came into a family, right? He didn’t have to be born into a family, but that’s what happened. And when Scrooge comes unto himself, when he wakes up on that Christmas morning, and he is reborn, he’s a different man, you know, he goes to church, but then he goes to his nephew’s house, his nephew, who has invited him to Christmas every single year. And he goes, and he, uh, takes care of the Cratchits. We see the Cratchits as this beautiful family. They under… They have nothing. They have absolutely nothing. So, this idea that, that Christmas needs to be things and stuff and decorations and all of that, you know, if you don’t have somebody to share it with… And, and I know that there are people who don’t have somebody to share it with, right?
Allison: They, they need some, um, to reconcile maybe some relationships.
Allison: Reach out, you know, reach out to each other.
Jim: Well, and I think that’s good advice. I think the last question with the little bit of time-
Jim: …we have left is, you know, for that person that is already feeling the Scrooge effect (laughs) of Christmas, you know, one more thing to do, we got decorations to put up… I can be a little Scrooge-like when it comes to putting Christmas lights on the house. (laughs).
John: Oh, really?
John: I haven’t heard about that.
Jim: It’s not like I’m looking forward to that.
Jim: Um. You know, up the ladder, the clip breaks. Oh, my goodness.
John: Death defying. Yeah.
Jim: (laughs). But, uh, what advice do you have for that attitude? And that’s what we’re… That’s the core of the whole message, is how do we have a Christ-like attitude during this season, and not a Scrooge-like attitude?
Allison: Well, you know, um, this might not go over well with everybody, but Christmas will still happen if you don’t have lights. Christmas will still happen if you don’t have a tree. If it doesn’t give you pleasure… Like, I have a friend who puts up her Christmas tree on October 31-
Allison: …because she wants to stretch the season. I put mine up the day after Thanksgiving because I’m a Christmas purist.
John: You’re a pure-
Allison: I get through Thanksgiving and then I do Christmas. But you know, if- if it’s giving you a grumbly spirit, think to yourself, why am I grumbling about this? And if you’re not doing it with a joyful heart, maybe step back a year.
Allison: You know, maybe- maybe do a little bit less. Maybe only put up a tree and garland. Don’t worry with the ornaments this year. You know, maybe cut back on your shopping and think to yourself, what’s the human interaction? What’s the human interaction relationship price that I’m paying, in order to fulfill what I think my, you know, social media feed needs to see-?
Allison: …you know, to, to please other people. You have to… I always directed our Christmas program at church for years and years and years. And just now looking back on it, I realized how miserable I made Christmas for my children sometimes-
Allison: …because I was so distracted with all of those other things, that they were sitting at home waiting for me to get back, or they were getting, you know, fast food supper because I was too stressed to make a real dinner. You have… The people that are close to you are the people that are going to be there after Christmas.
Allison: And invest your time and your love in them.
Jim: Wow, that’s so good. And Jean’s going to be so happy, I’m- I’m sure Dena, too-
Jim: …with this idea of what Christmas is all about and the Advent season. Jean was so good every year, with the kids particularly-
Jim: …making sure… Sometimes we had two advent calendars going.
Jim: It was amazing. And, uh-
Allison: Well, Advent means wait, right?
Allison: And so, it’s like, carve out that time-
Allison: …every day.
Jim: And this is such a good message. And I think you’ve captured something here that’s really insightful.
Allison: Thank you.
Jim: I don’t think it was a mistake, what Dickens wrote, and I do think there’s-
Jim: …a connection there. And of course, writing this in the 1800s, he would have been informed about the gospel message.
Jim: So, thank you so much.
Allison: Thank you.
Jim: Thanks for being here and sharing the story. Let me turn to the listeners. Uh. If you don’t know who the Lord is, this is what Christmas is about. So, get in touch with us. We’ll be back in on Monday, and we want to talk with you about what it means to have a relationship with Christ. That’s ground zero.
Jim: So, let’s start there and get rid of the bah humbugs and the Scrooge attitude, and really turn our hearts toward what Christmas and Easter are all about.
John: And to do that, I’ll recommend you get a copy of Allison’s book Keeping Christmas: 25 Advent Reflections on a Christmas Carol. We have that available here at our website, along with an audio CD or download of our entire conversation with her. Just contact us about those resources, and you might want to share them as gifts this holiday season.
Jim: Hey John, let’s also just say, let’s make it a gift giving on all sides. If you can make a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Allison’s book as our gift back to you.
Jim: And that’s a great Christmas attitude, I think. And if you haven’t heard, Focus has a matching opportunity. Uh. It’s going on right now. Some generous friends are willing to match your donation dollar for dollar. It’s a little way of having fun by helping Focus with its budget.
Jim: So, if you can give $25, they’re gonna match that with $25, and the gift will be doubled.
John: Yeah, we’d love to hear from you. Donate and get your copy of Keeping Christmas at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or give us a call on Monday, if you would, please. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Well, we hope you have a wonderful weekend with your family and your church family, as well. Plan to join us on Monday when we have a powerful spiritual reminder from Kim Meeder.
Kim Meeder: 2 Corinthians 3:15 says that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there’s freedom. So, Kim, where you don’t have freedom, guess where His spirit isn’t? And will you invite Him into that place, and step through the ashen darkness of that place into the freedom that you already have if Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?
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