Chances are, you’ve seen at least one of the movie adaptations of Charles Dickens’ iconic novel, A Christmas Carol. You may have even read it when you were in middle school. And if you’ve done neither of those, you at least know that to be a “Scrooge” is to be someone who resists the Christmas spirit.
For five years, I have taught either the novel or the play of this classic Christmas tale. Despite numerous readings, I still seem to notice something new every time (Lightbulb moments are one of the many wonders of reading a story with those who are encountering it for the first time…needless to say, I love reading literature with students.)
A Good Catastrophe
Charles Dickens likely was not a follower of Jesus. Yet his story still echoes the Great Story. It still bears the marks of what Tolkien coined the Eucatastrophe, “the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn”(On Fairy-Stories).
A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption, of a man who exchanges his “coat of grey” for a “coat of blazing holly red” (Dickens), symbolizing the exchange of a gravestone-cold, dead heart, for a heart that pumps life-blood and beats to the tune of something greater than Self.
The Role of Intercession in A Christmas Carol
However, this redemption is not achieved by Self. Scrooge does not simply decide to be better. In fact, as the story opens, he has no desire or impetus to change. Without Marley, the three Spirits, or in all probability, even without his nephew, Bob Cratchit, or Tiny Tim, Scrooge does not change.
In the last Act of the play, Scrooge recognizes that the “good nature” of the Ghost of Christmas Future “intercedes” for him (Horovitz).
It’s at this point in the play that I stop my students and we have a conversation about what “intercede” means.
To intercede to is to make a request on behalf of another. Before Scrooge has any thought of changing himself, there are those who are seeking his good. Marley warns him to repent. The spirits advocate his change.
Marley’s prophecy that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts hints their visit is somehow pre-ordained, suggesting a greater power is at play. Something or someone wants Scrooge to change.
What My Students Taught Me
My students unwittingly acted out this very concept. While we were reading the play, one class period got particularly unruly. The behavior reached a boiling point, and I interrupted the reading.
“Okay, that’s enough. Go back to your seats and read the rest of the play quietly.”
The students shuffled back to their seats, deflated.
The consequence was deserved. Nearly every student in the room was acting out.
There was one boy who had been doing the right thing.
And as my students plopped back at their desks, his quiet voice spoke up, “May we have a second chance?”
“We.” Not “They.” Not “You idiots.”
The language of intercession.
He identified with them. And he requested on their behalf.
Had any other student in the room issued the request, I would have snapped back, “No. You’ve had ten chances.”
A pregnant pause filled the room as students awaited my response.
A smile crossed my face. I breathed out, “Yes.”
Joyfully, students returned to their place at the front of the room to continue the reading. Yet, the entire dynamic of the room shifted. They were on task.
“If you want to know what intercession is,” I said, “that was it.”
Jesus Our Intercessor
Just as Scrooge does not change without the spirits’ intercession, and just as my students would not have been given another go without their classmate speaking up, so too, we do not change without Jesus coming to earth.
We have a God who makes intercession for us. A God who loves us while we are still sinners (Romans 5:8).
Christmas is the beginning of the eucatastrophe.
His light broke into our darkness. He is humble enough to reach for us and powerful enough to save us.
This Christmas, may we remember Jesus, the one who interceded with us by His blood, the one who still intercedes for us. Even now, He “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).
Jesus. The one who “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
A Happy Ending
Scrooge’s story ends with joy and triumph. That which was dead is now alive.
Regardless of how we feel this Christmas, we too can celebrate. For we who were once dead have been made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2).
Now we too have been entrusted with this message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Like Marley, the Spirits, Scrooge’s nephew, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim, we too can share this very good news.
Photo Credit: dennis.pope85’s photo, Attribution