Summary: Without God’s Light, without the promise of God’s love, Scrooge was doomed … and so are we! It is God’s love and judgment that are bringing Scrooge into the light so that he can repent and get on track to a better life … the life that God intended for him and not the one that he made for himself.
Ah … remember good Ol’ Jacob Marley from last week? How he appeared in his pigtails, usual waist-coat, tights, and boots? He also sported a huge chain “clasped about his middle … and wound about him like a tail … made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel” (Dickens, C. 2014. A Christmas Carol. New York: Global Classics; p. 12).
When Scrooge summons the courage to ask Marley about the chain, Marley explains: “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it” (Dickens, p. 14). Scrooge trembles more and more as Marley goes on: “Or would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. It is a ponderous chain” (Dickens, p. 14).
Jacob Marley has come to give his only friend in life, Ebenezer Scrooge, a tremendous gift. “I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and a hope of escaping my fate. A chance and a hope of my procuring” (Dickens, p. 15).
"You will be haunted," resumed the ghost, "by three spirits."
“Is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?” Scrooge demanded, in a faltering voice.
“I-I-think I’d rather not,” said Scrooge.
“Without their visits,” said the Ghost, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first to-morrow, when the bell tolls One” (Dickens, p. 16).
Sure enough, when the bell tolls one in the morning, the first ghost appears. I find Dickens’ description of the first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, fascinating: “It was a strange figure – like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions … and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.” (Dickens, p. 19). The ghost’s voice was “soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close besides him, it were at a distance” (Dickens, p. 19).
The Ghost of Christmas Past … its appearance constantly shifting, changing … like a child and at the same time an old man … appearing close then far away … light one moment and dark the next … one leg, two legs, twenty legs, no legs … a body without a head … a head without a body … fading away and at the same time distinct and clear as ever … the ghost’s voice sounding far away even though it was standing right in front of him.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is a personification of “memories.” Sometimes our “memories” are clear and distinct and other times they can be dim, fuzzy. Sometimes we can remember things that happened years … even decades … ago as clearly as if they happened yesterday and sometimes we have a hard time remembering what happened a week ago. Memories can suddenly rise up out of nowhere and fade away … only to reappear another day. Memories can change over time … they can become distorted. What we remember may contain elements of what happened but most of what happened isn’t true … facts get lost and new “facts” get added. It’s like the song “I Remember It Well” from the movie “Gigi” where an aging couple remember the first date they went on. “I was early – you were late” … “we dined with friends – we dined alone” … “you lost a glove – I lost a comb” … “You wore a gown of gold – I was all in blue” … each time followed by the chorus: “Ah, yes … I remember it well.”
Memories help us shape and define who we are but who we are or who we believe we are also changes and shapes our memories. Our memories influence how we see ourselves and the world … and the world and how we see ourselves help shape our memories.
The other thing about memories is that we all have them – some we choose consciously and others just seem to pop up out of nowhere. Memories are just part of being alive. We are constantly making them all the time. Some memories are beautiful, significant … something that we want to remember and hold on to … but we also have other memories, don’t we? Painful memories … sad memories … embarrassing things that we would rather forget that keep coming back and haunting us … like a ghost from out of our past, amen? Some memories can warm our hearts and other memories can be painful … especially when they come out of nowhere or come unbidden and we are forced to look at them as the Ghost of Christmas Past does to Scrooge. Again, as painful as this experience may be, Jacob Marley’s ghost is right …. We cannot hope to shun the path that we’re on without first looking at our past. Sometimes we need to see where we’ve been before we can understand how it is that we got here, amen?