“It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror,” Charles Dickens wrote of Scrooge’s meeting with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.
The future of Christmas came as a warning to Scrooge—change your ways, or this is what will become of you. The miser pleads, “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!” As a tool in Dickens’ narrative, this transition serves Scrooge well. As a motto to live by, it would lead readers to misery.
Our hearts and flesh fail us too regularly for this to work—go try harder is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps it’s best to contrast Dickens vision with the words of another literary giant, John Wesley. The pastor and theologian composed dozens of books, wrote thousands sermons, and published over 6,500 hymns during his lifetime. In one of his most famous hymns he wrote:
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
In this, Wesley captures the fulfillment of the first Advent while directing our attention on the brilliance of the second advent. What a miracle that the long expected Messiah was born into our world! How we long to be released from this brokenness. How we long for rest.
The message to Scrooge never led him beyond himself (which was his problem in the first place). The message of Wesley is for those who have met the end of self. For those who haven’t found true joy in success, those who can’t live past their failures, those who cannot find satisfaction in the messiness of this world; Christ is the “Joy of every longing heart.”
Listen: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus by Christy Nockels (2:59)
The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word. — Psalm 103.20
– From Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.