It's that time of year. The time for "A Christmas Carol". Now, let me make a disclaimer. I really enjoy A Christmas Carol. My mom would spend December while I was growing up playing version after version of a Christmas Carol - I don't know how many takes on the story that I've seen. I do love the story.
However, it gives me pause, especially as a preacher. Theologically - it's wretched. I mean, think about it. Scrooge is a jerk - and what happens? He's shown how it's better to be nice and then threatened with death and punishment for being bad... so he tries to bargain. "I'll change, I'll change, I will honor Christmas."
It is law, but law alone. Law left to its own devices. There is no Gospel, there is no mercy or forgiveness - it is the Law leading to utter works righteousness.
So. Here is my question for you, O Preacher.
You been leaning a bit Dickenish lately?
Because if the goal is to modify behavior, the Christmas Carol method works really, really well. Scrooge is a changed man. Why, he becomes a outward paragon of virtue and is well loved by his community. The thing is... he still dies. Sure, it's not the lonely, pathetic death that the Ghost of Christmas Future had warned him of - but he still dies, even if Bob and others mourn him. There's no mercy though, no forgiveness.
What is your goal, what's the end you are seeking, O preacher? That people become better? That they move from vice to virtue?
I quote my own translation of 1 John 5:13 (because I'm editing that part of the 1 John bible study right now and it's handy) - "This was written so that you may know that you have eternal life by believing in the Name of the Son of God."
That's not a Dickens' focus. And trust me - no one harps on the importance of loving your neighbor more than John (of course, some folks think "love your neighbor" isn't virtue-y enough or ethically enough, I suppose). Yet always, always John returns to Christ, to forgiveness. Indeed, love is perfected in us - is finished in us - blood, water, Spirit crying... always back to Christ.
The failings and decline of civilization are highly, highly frustrating. But you, o Preacher, are not called to be a new Dickens - you're called to proclaim what John did. The goal is that people know that they have forgiveness and life in Christ -- love, virtue, culture, whatever -- that all can flow from there. But Christ has to be the center.