I’m not going to lie, I think Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the greatest story ever told not inspired by the Holy Spirit. And every year I find myself clicking an Amazon link to buy a newly released holiday edition of this time-honored classic. Subconsciously I’m hoping to unearth some undiscovered nugget of joy as I pour through it’s inimitable pages and amazingly enough, I usually do.
Now lets be honest, our boy Scrooge get’s a lot of coverage during the Christmas season, especially in evangelical circles. And well he should. The story of Ebenezer’s redemption is illustrative of the gospel’s power to change the most wretched of sinners, of which we are all chiefs.
But one of my favorite characters in the story is Scrooge’s nephew, the unflappable and charitable Fred Holywell. Fred is a portrait of the sanctified Scrooge, the man that Scrooge will one day become and then have to face whenever confronted with the former version of himself.
It’s not like Fred doesn’t know the person he’s dealing with when he comes to visit his uncle on Christmas Eve at the drab and dimly lit offices of Scrooge and Marley. Ebenezer didn’t become the old curmudgeon he was overnight, after all. But Fred’s dialogue with the most most miserable of misers is a model of Christian charity like no other, and one we would do well to emulate when we find ourselves in the company of the hostile, which is an apt description for what many of us will be subjected to this Christmas. But notice the melody of Fred’s tone, the warmth of his humor, and the gracious choice of words, all seasoned with salt!
He gently pushes back when Scrooge argues against poor people making merry by gently asking,”What right have you to be dismal? what reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.“
When Scrooge asks what good that Christmas has ever done him, Fred replies that he always thinks of Christmas as “a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of…when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave…”
When Scrooge rudely rejects Fred’s invitation to dine with him and his wife on Christmas day, Fred responds by pleading,”I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends? I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel, to which I have been a party.”
And finally, Fred bids his uncle a hopeful farewell, without a hint of bitterness after the tense exchange, “But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas, and I’ll keep my Christmas humor to the last. So, A Merry Christmas, uncle!”
I’m humbled by the spirit of Fred Holywell. I replay my own interactions with those who have been challenging figures in my life and realize how much better I resemble Fred’s uncle than Fred himself. How about you?
I can only begin to imagine the challenges that lie ahead for many of us this Christmas season. The conversations around the holiday table will feel shaky and unsafe, like navigating landmines in the middle of the night.
How can we be fearless like Fred, especially when faced with the former Ebenezer’s we once were if not for the grace of God? Here are three ways:
1. In our approach: Fred came with compassion! I’m sure he guessed that Scrooge would aggressively turn down his invitation to dine, but he still asked nonetheless, and received Scrooge’s answer with grace, with the reminder that godly love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful (1 Corinthians 13:5). We can approach people with fearless compassion because our supply of it comes from Christ.
2. With our words: Fred spoke boldly and truthfully! He was one who did not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Fred was able to respond with a kind of fearless joy to Scrooges misinformed opinions because an assurance of God’s grace had informed his heart. We can fearlessly speak the truth in grace because we know that grace is how we came to know the truth.
3. Because of hope: Fred had hope in his heart! Not many people could’ve walked away from Ebenezer feeling this encouraged, but Fred had a love for his uncle that was able to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Scrooges cynicism couldn’t dash Fred’s hope because Fred’s hope wasn’t dependent on Scrooge. We can be fearlessly hopeful because we are faithfully loved.
When faced with the Ebenezer’s of our life this Christmas, will we be fearless like Fred Holywell? Will we approach them with compassionate hearts, speaking the truth in love, and remaining steadfast in hope? We can when we remember that we all had Scrooge’s heart, until Christ redeemed ours.