The cool thing about Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is that it drags us through street after miserable street of the future we deserve-the future we have sown for ourselves-in the form of a cold-sweat dream that has lasted all night. And then it sweeps it all away with a puff of breath. We awaken to experience the feeling that is the most wonderful of all human feelings-a second chance.
They taught us in school the structure of a proper story: introduction, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion. This, we were told, is how real life is: organic; the denouement foreshadowed early in the character's weaknesses; no deus ex machina.
And this is how we believed our own lives would be and would turn out. I, at least. Francis Schaeffer was right about a whole generation living "under the line of despair." We work, we play, we marry, we grow old, we dust ourselves off and keep going, all in a quiet hopelessness, neither loving much nor expecting to be loved much. We hang drapes in our pit and hunker down. All is weariness; what has been will be.
And then Christmas comes. God breaks into the play. He says, as it were: Let us forget the first chance, in the garden where I said, "Thou shalt not!" Now I give you a second chance; I present a babe in a manger and say, "Thou shall!" Come to him. Be washed clean of everything that the first arrangement could not cleanse you of. And you will no longer merely manage relationships, but really love your spouse. You will no longer live out your days in muted desperation, but will taste the meaning of the word "joy." Behold, I make all things new.