The characters in Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol,” are about as well known to us as family. Ebenezer Scrooge. Bob Cratchit. Tiny Tim. All those ghosts. But two minor characters are often overlooked from Dickens’ tale.
In one scene, the Ghost of Christmas Present pulls back his majestic robes to reveal “two children; wretched, frightful, hideous, miserable. A boy and a girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish.” Then the Spirit names them: “This boy is named Ignorance. This girl is named Want. Beware of them.”
This was Dickens’ keen way of personifying how ignorance and poverty can mature into monsters that doom a society. Dickens’ warning stands as certain today as when he first issued it, and we would do well to heed it, for we are an inept culture, our ignorance and poverty growing stronger daily.
We kill our enemies in the name of peace, oblivious that we are only sowing greater hostility. We generate obscene wealth, and yet a quarter of our children live in poverty. We refuse to reconcile our 400-year-old original sin of racism, but wonder why people can’t “get along.” We allow gun violence to continue unabated, but are shocked as the evening news reports another casualty.
We are rotting from within eviscerated by our ignorance, foolishness, poverty, and a lack of common sense. Yet, we who are Jesus-lovers and Jesus-followers can make a difference. We can throw ourselves into this chaotic, hurting world – not with picket signs, angry sermons, or the rhetoric of cultural war, mind you – but with love, wisdom, and redemption.
On the first Christmas when the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, it was a declaration of “good news.” God’s love had been born into the world, tangibly wrapped in flesh and bones! This love must be reborn – time and time again – in those who bow at Jesus’ manger, who then rise to work against ignorance and poverty.
This work might be best described by a Native American proverb: “It’s not the mountain climb that wears you out. It’s the pebble in your moccasin.” We become steady, constant, irritating agony for all who step toward injustice; a piercing burr under the saddle of oppression, a hemorrhoidial pain in the backside of foolishness, ants in the pants of society’s poverty.
Every place we find someone who needs a little help, everywhere there is abuse, everywhere we discover “the least of these,” we show up with love in our hands and hearts to be sure, but tenacious, nagging, annoying redemption in our words and in our actions. And we do this until the culture stops and faces its problem – until exhausted, they must shake the redeeming rocks from their boots.
Working to prevent ignorance and poverty from blooming into society-killing monsters cannot be achieved by remaining neutral and uninvolved. No, true love always requires action and passion. And it will be true love, the very love of God, that will save us from ourselves.