God works in strange ways. Last weekend, two friends and I were deeply moved when we saw a theatrical production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." This is the famous and popular tale of the transformation and redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge from a rasping, grasping old miser into a lovable, generous old man who, late in life, becomes determined to make amends for all his extreme selfishness and his public denunciations of charity.
After a tossing-and-turning Christmas Eve night, during which he has dreams showing him lonely in his youth, showing present suffering he could easily alleviate, and showing future rejoicing at his death, he awakes on Christmas morning a new man. He immediately parts with some of his wealth to the very people and institutions he formerly rejected, makes amends with relatives he had ignored, and his heart swells with joy — a joy he had never known.
It was a joy his riches had never brought him.
In the production we saw, Scrooge gave numerous soliloquies in which he bared his soul, at first condemning the poor for being useless ("are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?") and then embracing them. This is, of course, fiction; yet, it is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ that one can — with a firm purpose of amendment — turn to God and love Him at any time in one's life, no matter one's past.
In one of his final soliloquies, Scrooge questions whether he has the bravery to become a new man. Of course, he does. And the remainder of his life is changed for the good.
I have read "A Christmas Carol" a half dozen times, and I have seen many theatrical and motion picture renditions of it. This was the first time I was moved by the bravery comment. As Scrooge approaches the end of his old life with fear and trembling, he embraces his new life with generosity and joy. However, it is not easy, and he must summon much bravery.
While watching this theatrical transformation, it occurred to me that Our Lord and Savior demonstrated extraordinary bravery when he took on human form. Taking Christmas seriously means believing that Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by an act of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.
Because Jesus is both the second person of the Trinity and was born of a woman, he is true God and true man. His nature — the hypostatic union of God and human flesh — is not only unique in all existence and in all time; it is inseparable.
Thus, through the miracle of transubstantiation, which Christ performs at every Mass through the instrumentality of a Catholic priest, He is physically present. Taking Christmas seriously means that the Holy Eucharist is not a representation of Jesus Christ; it IS Jesus Christ. It is His body, blood, soul and divinity.
All of this came about because God the Father — the first person of the Blessed Trinity — chose a young Jewish girl in Palestine to be the mother of His son 2,000 years ago, and the girl — the Blessed Virgin Mary — said yes.
Dickens does not get into the theology of Christ's birth, but he emphasizes the value of charity to human happiness and eternal salvation. The word "charity" comes from the Latin "caritas" which means heart. Because charity is giving from your heart, it is impossible to be charitable with someone else's assets because that is not giving from the giver's heart.
When the government claims it is being charitable with your money, it is looking for political support from those who have received what it has taken from you. That's not charity. Charity is freely given, not governmentally taken.
Of course, the greatest charity is laying down one's life for one's friends. Taking Christmas seriously means recognizing not only Jesus' virgin birth, not only His hypostatic union, not only His love of humanity, but also His crucifixion and resurrection.
Now back to bravery. Jesus, who is God, spent the nine months preceding his birth as a baby in Mary's womb. Those who believe that the baby in the mother's womb is not a person do not take Christmas seriously. What do they think Jesus was in Mary's womb — the second person of the Blessed Trinity, true God and true man, or a hunk of flesh? He was God in the womb — human and divine — and very much a person.
Taking Christmas seriously means rejecting abortion in all its forms because it is the killing of an innocent person. Jesus had the bravery to take Mary seriously, that she'd keep Him in her womb until birth and then raise him to adulthood so He could save the world from sin and darkness.
Taking Christmas seriously means recognizing that Jesus is, as the late great spiritual writer Dom Eugene Boylan called him, "This Tremendous Lover," that He came to call sinners, not the just, that he loves all, forbears all, forgives all, and remains with all. Taking Christmas seriously means that by embracing His cross — by denying oneself and being charitable to others — we can rise from the dead as He did.
Taking Christmas seriously means humility, charity and abandonment to His will.
God works in strange ways and often through strange people. Taking Christmas seriously is the lesson of "A Christmas Carol." Through Scrooge we see that it is never too late to love God and to show that love through our hearts. And the internal joy that comes from giving overwhelms the fleeting joy that comes from keeping.