I love Charles Dickens.
I love his crazy characters -who can forget Ebenezer Scrooge counting his money, or Miss Haversham perpetually dressed in her wedding dress from when she was jilted many years ago or maybe the evil Fagin collecting stolen treasures.
I love his twisty turny plots and darkly humorous scenes.
This Christmas a film is coming out called “The Man Who Invented Christmas” telling of Dickens writing a Christmas Carol.
Much of our thinking of Christmas stems from the quill of Dickens, but often been re-enacted somewhat selectively, as not everything in Dicken’s Christmas was good cheer, snowy streets, mistletoe and holly, good humoured mutton chopped sideburns and “God bless us everyone”…
Yet much of his story-telling is to comment on the injustices and evils in his society, as an uncomfortable mirror shining a light on all that was wrong and ignored with the world in which he lived.
Yet in many ways we are returning to a Dickensian land again, the money lenders like Scrooge are now replaced by loan sharks like Bill Sykes, 1 in 6 of us are in debt. Most of us are just two pay cheques away from visiting a foodbank. Draconian rules on benefit sanctions passed with no compassion or empathy (or even common sense on occasions) blight the lives many causing children to go to bed hungry. Our NHS forces many suffering in acute pain to wait and wait for an appointment, and many have died shortly after being ‘declared fit to work’.
The capitalism so brilliant ridiculed in Hard Times is as pervasive now as it was then, where the might of institution grinds down at the Bob Cratchett’s of this world on 0 hour contracts attacking him as lazy and lacking aspiration rather than simply doing all he can beneath a broken system just to provide food for his family. Sadly the sweat-shops exploiting worker to work in to make ends meet exist today in most major cities -and across the world, in fact probably an item of clothing you are wearing at this very moment was made in a sweat shop somewhere in the world, possibly even using child labour.
Sadly children still run away from children’s homes where horrific abuse has occurred, sadly run-away children are still exploited by people like Fagin for evil purposes, with the Nancy’s of this world forced into prostitution.
Too often we try and romanticise and airbrush out of Christmas all pain, misery, suffering and sadness. Forgetting that the first Christmas, the one ‘invented’ by Christ featured an unmarried pregnant teenager in a country where barbaric religious fundamentalism could stone her to death, Roman oppression, homelessness, refugees fleeing genocide.
Dickens understood the fallenness of humanity, that the world is not as it should be, nor are people as they should be.
The first Christmas shows that God himself understands the fallenness of humanity.
Dickens despite the suffering and pain woven within his great works his novels still have hope within them, hope that people can change, hope that the past does not necessarily dictate the future, hope that love can overcome hate, and goodness overcome evil. Dickens like that first Inn Keeper understands the immense power of human kindness to bring transformation.
Dickens wrote believing another world was possible and sought to inspire his readers to live different and changed lives seeking to combat cruelty, callousness and greed.
Yet the Christmas Story -despite the poverty and pain interwoven within the narrative- is a message of hope, good news for all people. The Christmas story, God with us, God our rescuer and redeemer being born as a vulnerable baby. It is a message the people can change (as Christ has transformed the lives of millions of people) and Jesus incarnation shows us that another way of living is possible, his cross shows love destroying hate, goodness overcoming evil, light defeating darkness.
It is a story that captivates and changes, not to just be left in the book, but as we read it we are inspired to live a different way, being ambassadors and agents of transformation -bringers of a different Kingdom-.