Among my favorite characters of the holiday season are George Bailey, Ebenezer Scrooge, and The Grinch of Whoville. Each of their stories revolves around a spiritual encounter that led to a conversion experience which became a pivotal point in their earthly life.
What our church calls conversion, ancient Greeks called metanoia: an about-face, a one-eighty, a full turn-in-direction upon the path down which we were headed. Scrooge was headed in a direction of sadness whereby business success was more important to him than the well-being of humanity—including his own; he had forgotten the longings of his childhood and the hopes of young adulthood. George Bailey was on a path of despair because he thought he might be better off to others dead than alive; he bore the burdens of many people in Bedford Falls and would do anything to improve their lives, even take his own. And The Grinch was mad at the world because life is unfair. “Oh, it’s because I’m green, isn’t it?” he said to a taxi driver that sped by him. An isolated soul tortured by circumstances, he was a mean one who was worsened by the happiness of others. Thank God, they each had a metanoia experience!
And each in the darkness of Christmas Eve: Scrooge’s was through the night as he was visited by four ghosts; George’s was on the bridge from which he intended to jump; and The Grinch’s was on top of Mount Crumpet as Christmas Day dawned after he stole it—all of it—from The Whos. The Christmas experience is essentially the Christian experience. “And what happened then? Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Christmas came through and The Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches plus two.” It’s a lot like Pentecost when the Twelve Apostles, who had been huddled in fear, suddenly, through the power of The Holy Spirit, gained courage and faith that they had never before known.
Clarence, the angel without wings, softly spoke as George began to realize what the world would be like without him: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many others. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?…You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it all away?” These characters challenge us to examine our lives and recognize the grace that dwells in them. No one should want to get “scrooged” as they did. But sometimes some of us need to do “a one-eighty” and re-direct our path. Ebenezer was not a bad man, only he forgot who he was—as did the others. Once he rediscovered himself, he reflected, “I will honor 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.”
Before the haunting Spirits visited him, he thought that poor, sickly children were part of the surplus population that should hurry to die. As Mayor Who declared, “The term “grinchy” shall apply, when Christmas spirit is in short supply.” Scrooge was quite “grinchy”; but after the Spirits visited, he admitted, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” Let us then find the child within us, even if we have to call upon holy ghosts to help; let’s not relinquish our childhood dreams or child-like innocence. And if we can, let’s reach out to, and welcome in, one that might benefit from a little holiday magic. Christian conversion is a continual thing: we could use a metanoia encounter and our outreach might be pivotal in another’s journey, too. As Cindy Lou Who stated: “No matter how different a Who may appear, he will always be welcome for holiday cheer.”
Jesus came to earth poor, fragile, innocent, and different. His time on earth was itself, a metanoia experience for the world. He reminds us that, though life is short, it has a past, a present, and a future—and they each have something to teach us. The Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, and George Bailey each, in his own way, realized the gift of God made manifest in generous hearts. When they realized they possessed such hearts, they simultaneously recognized the miracle of Christmas. As George’s Pa said: “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”
This Christmas, let’s treasure the gift we give and the gift that we receive.