Ebenezer Scrooge was, by all accounts, a bad man. True, he never murdered anyone. And it cannot be imagined that he ever loved a woman enough to veer close to adultery. But he kept poor Bob Cratchit slaving at his money-lending office on Christmas Eve, scoffing that holidays were nothing but a way to pick a man’s pocket. And he showed no concern whatsoever for the poor. But business as usual all came to an end for Scrooge on one extraordinary day, and you may consider yourself very blessed indeed if a similar thing ever happens to you.
Three ghosts visited Scrooge in turn, each terrible in their own right as they took him by the hand and brought him into dark revelations. The Ghost of Christmas Past showed scenes of his boyhood and his courtship with a tender young woman whom he let get away in his single-minded avarice. Try as he might, Scrooge could not go back and change a jot or tittle of it; it was frozen and entered with indelible ink into the ledger of eternity.
The Ghost of Christmas Present lifted up the rug of Scrooge’s life to reveal the full dimensions of his selfishness—the people he was hurting unawares by his penny-pinching, heartless ways, and the precarious health of Tiny Tim, which Scrooge was in a position to ameliorate but did not.
But the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was the most fearful of all. It was silent and showed not its face, but pointed to scenes that were left to Scrooge to decipher—three wealthy men having a good laugh over someone’s funeral, one saying he would only go if they serve lunch; a poor debtor relieved at the passing of his creditor and hoping that his successor would be more kindly; the Cratchit family mourning Tiny Tim; and finally, a graveyard with a headstone whose inscription Scrooge begged not to see.
“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, answer me one question,” Scrooge finds his tongue to inquire. “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?”
The Ghost answers not a word. But for anyone reading this column, Holy Writ gives a clear and wonderful answer to Scrooge’s pained question: Take heart, for the shadows are the things that may be, only. You may yet change your destiny, for God is willing!
Brothers and sisters, if God has lately shown us terrible things about the selfish lives we have been living, these are not final and unalterable judgments but merciful warnings. As long as we are in the land of the living, we may come to Christ and change our ways. A day is coming when it will be too late, and tomorrow is promised to no man. But today, while it is still today (Hebrews 3:15), while we still have breath in us, it is not too late to come. For it is to the nearly despairing that God calls out this comfort:
“‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him …” (Joel 2:12-14).