Between the Trees By Pete Garcia and Randy Nettles "There’s a tree on the first…
By Pete Garcia
“MARLEY was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Author’s Note: My intent is not to sound “preachy” in this, or self-righteous. I apply this as much to myself as I would anyone else. I use the collective “we” and “our,” speaking to the community of Christians writ large, not to any particular group. Having said that I have copied four sections from Dicken’s immortal classic, A Christmas Carol for context into this brief. You’ll note the quote by the change in font and subtitle. I have little doubt you’ve seen some movie adaption of the story, however, if you’ve never read it, I highly encourage it. I have no doubt as to the godly impact against materialism this story has had on western civilization these past 178 years. Let us begin.
Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “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. Is its pattern strange to you?” Scrooge trembled more and more…
…Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time!”
“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”
“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.
“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.
“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.
The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.
“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness.
Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Should the Lord tarry another day, or should He call us home early, our lives are marked by opportunity after opportunity to do what is right in the sight of the Lord. We are called to be salt and light to a world shrouded in death and darkness. Yet, so many sit on the sidelines of life studiously contemplating their own bellybuttons as would a child wholly transfixed by its curious nature.
By that, I mean that most people are myopic by nature and seemingly fixated only on their own affairs to ever notice the suffering and misery of those around them.
We sit in plush churches on Sunday morning, wondering why the jails are filled to capacity. We look at the addicts on the street and wonder why so many chose to self-medicate. The reason why the jails are full and why the world runs on drugs is because the world is a vicious and cruel place and tramples underfoot all it can in the short, meager lives we live.
But because the world is so vicious and cruel, is the very reason why so many retreat into their own lives hiding away from the world. They (we) don’t often want to get mixed up with other people’s problems, because to do so, would subject us to making their problems, our own. There are the legal and financial ramifications which these days, unfairly target the ‘Good Samaritan.’ There are the very real threats to life, liberty, and property that come with being helpful. There is the unwanted and completely biased media attention (i.e., Kyle Rittenhouse for example), and the potential long-term ramifications of forever being marked (and used) as the good Samaritan.
But hideaway we cannot. We cannot ignore the plights of those around us. To whatever sphere of influence God has put you in, use those gifts and talents God has graciously given you, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. You don’t need to carry an AR-15 into a riot to do good, but if that is what you are called to do, then you answer to God, not man. Either way, we cannot say ‘we should not be bothered with so and so’s problems because we have our own. We cannot be bothered with such and such things, because I am limited in time and money.
I tell you in all truth, mankind is our business and we worship a God who is boundless in resources, and limitless in mercy. If we but pray and ask our Father, on their behalf, to intercede, and to give us the opportunities to serve, God will open those doors in ways you and I could not imagine. And in so doing, we are storing up riches in heaven, where neither rust nor moth destroys, nor thieves steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (from Matthew 6:19-21)
The Ghost of Christmas Past
“My time grows short,” observed the Spirit. “Quick!”
This was not addressed to Scrooge, or to any one whom he could see, but it produced an immediate effect.
For again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines of later years; but it had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.
He was not alone, but sat by the side of a fair young girl in a mourning-dress: in whose eyes there were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
“It matters little,” she said, softly. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.”
“What Idol has displaced you?” he rejoined.
“A golden one.”
When reading through the Old Testament, I would often find myself mockingly asking, how could those Israelites be so stupid to replace God almighty, for the Golden Calf, Asherah, or Baal?
And yet, do we modern, educated, and sophisticated peoples not do the exact same thing? If we were honest, we would ask, what idols do we place in our own lives that displaces God’s rightful role as the centerpiece of our faith?
Is it trust in money (mammon)? Is it faith in our job or title? Is it in a spouse? Is it a football or sports team? Is it a political party or a leader? Perhaps we place our faith in our own righteousness or religiosity. We are all guilty of committing idolatry at one time or another, myself included.
Mr. Scrooge’s idol was not just money but in the fear of poverty, which was the necessary fuel to flame the fire of his love of money. As the old saying goes, the one thing the rich and the poor never have enough of is money. Having been poor and wealthy, I can say honestly that it is as strong a desire as any, to not want to be poor again. But this goes directly against the spirit of contentment that we are instructed to have in this life, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves, that we should be content in the Lord. What does Scripture say?
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” – 1 Timothy 6:9-11
The Ghost of Christmas Present
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.” From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. “Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.
No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. “Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve. Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
There is no haunting picture in all of this story, as the two wretched children which represent mankind’s own orphaned children; Ignorance and Want. Perhaps there are two fallen angels in the ranks of the demonic hierarchy, as mentioned in the Seven Princes of Hell Theory (based upon the dubious Roman Catholic teachings on the seven deadly sins), who are assigned these two particular positions. If so, then they are adequately and appropriately noted. Both are to be avoided, and both ignorance and want (coveteousness) are explicitly warned against.
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” – Ephesians 4:17-19
A growing number of Christians (and pseudo-Christians) are willfully wallowing in spiritual and biblical ignorance like the pigs in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Some even pride themselves in willful ignorance making claims that seeking knowledge is antithetical to having faith. Yet, of the two, I believe ignorance to be much more dangerous. One can know they are being envious (Cain for example against his brother Abel). But ignorance blinds even the knowledge about what envy is. Not only is ignorance dangerous, but spiritual ignorance evolves naturally from ignorance to heresy, from heresy to apostasy, and then on toward spiritual death even though God is longsuffering with us.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?”
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.
“Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!”
The finger still was there.
“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!”
For the first time the hand appeared to shake.
“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
The kind hand trembled. “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”
In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.
Oh, were man granted heaven’s perspective? Such short lives we lead. Such wasted time. Wasted on wine, women (or men), on pleasures, and on business. Wasted not just on the frivolous pursuit of pleasure, but on making a name for ourselves in a world that is already slated for fiery destruction.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” – 2 Peter 3:11-13
Would we hearken beyond Marley’s advice, not to just make mankind our business through charity and service, but also to the saving of souls? The saving of souls must be our primary concern so that eternal damnation would not be the final destination for friends and family, even neighbors and strangers. We must warn them that there is no rest in the grave, no peaceful sleep, but death, quickly followed by endless turmoil, torture, separation, and hopelessness without Christ; where the fire is not quenched and the worm dieth not. (Mark 9:44)
Should the Lord tarry another day, let us not waste one second more of not sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us not be found guilty of hoarding so precious a gift, but in taking the Master’s coin (as the parable says), and investing it; Investing it in the lives of our fellow man. Life is too short to move through it either ignorantly, greedily, or carelessly.
While there is fictitious imagery borne out in this story with chains and padlocks, and unforgiven ghosts wander endlessly about the earth forever in bondage to their regrets; there is also truth in it.
The Bible clearly states that a man is appointed once to die, and then the judgment (Heb. 9:27). For the Christian, who was judged at the Cross, he or she awaits the Bema Judgment. This is where we will be judged, not for our sins (which were dealt with at the Cross), but what we did with the gifts and callings from God. Our works will be tested by fire, not to determine salvation, but for reward. Those rewards are what we cast back at the feet of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5)
For the unredeemed who do not have received the free gift of salvation, the Great White Throne Judgment awaits them. (Rev. 20:11-14) These will be judged by their works and sin, and will each be found wanting, no matter how pious or religious they were in life. If their names are not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then they are told the most horrifying words ever uttered in any language-
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” – Matthew 25:41
While the ghostly chains and wanderings of the unredeemed in A Christmas Carol are meant as symbolism, the regret and grief they represent are very literal. If you die in your sins, separated from God because you refused the Son Jesus Christ, then you will pay for your own sins for all eternity in the lake of fire. In that fiery lake, which burns forever and ever without end, the flame burning the flesh will not sear as hot as the flame of regret searing the conscious of those who chose to be there.
Thus the question remains, will you bear your own chains into eternity, or will you be set free by the Son of Man?
This season, let us be thankful and celebrate the graciousness of God the Father. Who, by sending forth His Son, would leave the unimaginable splendor and glories of heaven, to be born in the manger as the lowly Son of Man so that salvation might come to all mankind.
Merry Christmas and Maranatha!
Image Credit: © Yorgy67