From "Tiny Tim and King Herod", a chapter in Waiting
Advent has begun, the time of waiting when we turn toward the coming dawn with renewed expectancy. Each year in the liturgical cycle we are invited to pray with the entire Church for the rebirth of Christ within the stable of our hearts, and for the graces we will need as we await his final coming. The scripture readings are about hope arising in the midst of darkness, of beginnings and endings and the eternal joy when there will be no more endings. Until that ultimate homecoming, we live in a world that is still in the process of being restored in Christ. The Christ Child is among us—and so is Herod.
Every year or so I read aloud to my children Charles Dickens’ great classic, A Christmas Carol. Most of our six have also reread it quietly to themselves and watched the three better known film versions of it. There are always new lights to be found in just about any Dickens novel, and the Carol is no exception. You find yourself laughing at something which last year you found not in the least funny; this year you’re choking back a sob where last year you were left untouched. A detail, a turn of phrase, a stroke of the authorial brush and the great drama of human life is revealed as something very mysterious, containing much comedy, tragedy, and a whole lot more hidden glory than we suppose is there.
The story is deceptively simple. It’s about choices, about fear, family, riches and poverty, and isolation overcome by mercy. Divine mercy and human mercy. Mr. Scrooge, of course, is the archetypical person completely turned in upon himself, resentful of the endless neediness of humanity, defending his power and possessions with an array of “reasonable” self-justifications. As Christmas approaches, Mr. Scrooge regards his employee Bob Cratchit with contempt, believes that he has too many children, and that it is his (Bob’s) recklessness in this regard that has locked him into a life of servitude and grinding poverty. Bob’s crippled son Tiny Tim is one of the more unfortunate aspects of the Cratchit’s plight, thinks Scrooge, who feels not a whiff of sympathy.
In an introduction to an early edition of the book, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population, or if he is not, how he knows he is not.”