Latter-day thoughts on A Christmas Carol: can people really change?
I just finished watching one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, Scrooge. It’s the story of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol set to music. This year, the movie gripped me like never before. As it came to its conclusion I found myself pondering the question, “Can people really change?” Can real-life misers suddenly become generous? Can the addict give up the bottle? Can a bully’s heart soften? Can a bigot feel compassion for those that are different from him? While A Christmas Carol is a richly spun story, reality can be harsher to face. Is such a dramatic change reserved only for fairy-tales and wish lists? At Christmas time more than any other time, inward reflections on our own choices and the choices of those around us become more prevalent. We ponder more deeply the meaning of our lives. And when the Christmas stories are put away for another year, lingering thoughts drive us to question even our own habits—can anyone really change permanently?
Charles Dickens may have written his story with a “happily ever after” ending, but someone else wrote the true-life answer to the age old question of change. Indeed, people can change from bad to good but it isn’t three ghosts that walk us through the change. It is our Savior, Jesus Christ, if we have the faith to let Him. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would like to offer my restored gospel view of the classic tale, A Christmas Carol.
As the tale begins we see Scrooge in his true light—both ugly and beautiful. His demeanor is that of a miserly, heartless man, but he is still loved by his nephew who welcomes him each year at Christmas time without fail. Every one of us fits into this spiritual mold to some extent. If we look deeper into ourselves, we will see our true nature—both the outward imperfections and inward truths. While we may be flawed, there is one being who welcomes us no matter what we’ve done, no matter what our weaknesses may be. Just as Scrooge had his nephew, we too have a relative who sees us clearly, with loving eyes. We have a Heavenly Father who loves us no matter what.
Still, we often reject Him and his invitation to join Him for a Christmas feast. Maybe we feel we are not welcome, maybe we question His sincerity. Maybe we are too set in our miserly ways toward our fellow man, whether we’ve been hurt or whether we’ve done the hurting. Either way we reject His invitation and stay comfortable in our misery—until something happens to wake us up. In the story, ghosts come to set Scrooge straight. For us, the Savior has come.
Jesus Christ is the only one who has been through all the tribulations of life. He suffered them wholly in the Garden of Gethsemane and then again on the cross during his crucifixion. This binds Him to us in a way that transcends any other relationship in our lives— He understands exactly what we struggle with, no matter what it is, no matter who we are. And like the story, He has promised to spiritually walk with us through our trials, to guide us away from the pitfalls of live and to point us in the direction of salvation. He will lead us out of darkness, if we let Him.
In A Christmas Carol, the ghosts represented Christmas past, present, and future. Christ, too can show us who we once were, why we matter now, and the potential of who we are to become—but there is a difference. He shows us through the eyes of an eternal perspective which are not limited to this earthly existence. His past extends beyond our childhood, his present is ever present, and his future is eternal.
Christmas past through Christ’s eyes goes beyond our own past. Through the restored gospel we know we once lived with Christ and with our Heavenly parents. We can imagine our lives being pure and joyful in a perfect realm. In that pre-earthly state, we did not carry the flaws that weigh us down now. He remembers who we were then, and His hope is to help us remember as well. We are the offspring of glory, and we have the potential to return to that glory again. What a significant insight into our value to Him!
Christmas present represents life on earth in its eternal cycle, what we learn, how we learn it, and how it shapes our choices for a new day. It is not just today, it is our earthly realm. During this earth-life, we have the opportunity to learn and grow each day. We have the teachings of Christ our Savior as an example in how we should treat our fellow man. The scriptures of old and modern-day revelation guide us along our journey each step of the way. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost, who is a true member of the Godhead and not a fictitious character in a story. The Holy Ghost has the power to give comfort to us, to prompt us to do good, to protect us from temptation and trials, and to steer us back to the path of righteousness to live with our Father in Heaven again.
Christmas yet to come is the guarantee of change through repentance. With Christ, we have the promise of the Atonement that will purify us and make right all that which has been wrong. This is truly the gift of Christmas yet to come—a loving Savior’s gift to all. No matter how difficult the struggle, no matter how heavy the burden, no matter how ugly the sin, Christ can take away the stains of all of them through the cleansing power of his Atonement. This is the promise for the abuser and the abused. This is the gift to the downtrodden and the desperate. This is the hope for all who struggle with hardness of heart and intolerance of mind.
In the climax, Scrooge hits rock bottom. He is forced to see the consequences of his choices. He sees the suffering caused through his cruel actions and indifferent behavior. He sees happiness and sorrow side by side and realizes he has caused only sorrow. He begs for a second chance in life so that he can mend his ways and not suffer the fate of those who made the same poor choices. He repents, and so can we. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone has a second chance—and a third and a fourth, and so on. This is what it means when it is said that the Atonement is infinite. Heavenly Father knew we would make mistakes every day. He provided a Savior to account for them, if we do our part as well.
In the last scene of Scrooge, we see how his change of heart has a ripple effect on all who know him—those whom he has harmed and treated callously and maliciously, and those who fear him and loathe him. The joy he feels is contagious—he asks forgiveness and receives it openly. He gives of himself through gifts and acts of charity that are worthy of nobility. His love cannot be contained. This is like the mighty change of heart that comes to those who receive the fullness of the gospel in their lives, who connect with their Father in heaven and who come to a realization of their role as a child of God.
Is there hope for the scrooges of the world? Yes. That hope comes through Jesus Christ, whose mission itself was life-changing. His is not a story to be told once a year, then forgotten until the next. His is a story of everlasting hope that will bring permanent change to all those who seek after Him. And while we may suffer setbacks from time to time, the Atonement is a promise that will sweep the earth with a cleansing power unmatched by none other. This is the promise of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come.
For those of us who feel the pain caused by the scrooges around us, there is no doubt in my mind they can change. It may take a lifetime, but it will come. While we wait, leering questions rise in our own hearts—will we let them change? Will we believe their sincerity? Will we forgive them? The answers may be harder to face, for it requires a pathway toward change that is uncomfortable to face—change in the heart of the abused toward the abuser. Next week’s devotional will walk us through that dark road, into the light the Savior has reserved for us.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.