Tuesday, December 19, 2006

To Banish Ignorance and Want

My wife and I attended a performance of A Christmas Carol at our son's school last Friday evening. It was a production which took itself seriously -- which is what all productions of Dickens' classic should do. Something else it did, which many such productions choose not to do, was to present on stage the two orphan children cowering under the Ghost of Christmas Present's robes -- Ignorance and Want.

While everyone takes joy in Scrooge's redemption, many of us miss the significance of those two orphans. They are always there; they follow the Present throughout his journey. And, in truth, they will always be there. They are there because they are the incarnation of what Marley tells Scrooge was the ghost's -- and what should be -- Scrooge's "business."

Christmas exists for many reasons -- the laughter of children, the gathering of family, the memory of He whose birth we recall. But the holiday should never pass without all of us recalling that "mankind is our business." It was so in Dickens' day, as it should likewise be in our own.

Strangely enough, Scrooge has a distinctly contemporary ring these days. In fact, when he asks, "Are there no prisons, no workhouses?" he seems to be advocating the kind of social policies many Western democracies have adopted over the past twenty-five years. History does have a way of repeating itself.

But history does not have to repeat itself. Dickens' message is all about renewal -- even at the last minute. We still have the opportunity to redeem ourselves and redirect our lives. Christmas reminds us the that it is everyone's business to help banish Ignorance and Want. If we dedicate ourselves to that task, we can share Tiny Tim's wish that God will bless us -- everyone.

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