“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

 

A man, unable to sleep, had taken to walking the streets of his city in the wee hours of the morning. The man was a writer, but lately his muse had left him, and he did not know how he would support his wife and the child soon to be born. His father had been sent to a debtor’s prison for his inability to make good on his obligations. Now the man who haunted these lonely streets was sure he would meet the same fate.

 

On one of these nocturnal excursions, the man happened to see two children running. Why children would be out in the middle of the night, he did not know. His curiosity piqued, he followed the boy and girl to an abandoned building. There was a campfire, and huddled around it were the children, with a man and a woman, presumably their parents. They were all dressed very shabbily, and the man noticed that on the children’s faces were white smudges he could not identify. The writer addressed the father: “What is that on your children’s faces?” “Flour,” the man said. “They work in a bakery.” “Why?” “They must, to make ends meet.” Then the father became hostile and belligerent; apparently the stranger was asking too many questions or was frightening the children. “Please leave us,” he said, picking up a piece of board as a weapon to make sure his request was honored. The writer retreated, and kept walking, even more depressed now because of what he had seen.

 

The man finally made his way back home, and there for days ate and slept little. He still could not write, and fell into a severe depression. His servant was concerned about his welfare, and she told his wife so, but the young woman advised the maid to let her husband be. Yet she too was worried, and kept vigil outside the study door. 

 

The nocturnal walks continued, and one happened to take the man to a workhouse, apparently a laundry. He looked in the window and saw young children toiling with great bundles of sheets and other linens. The man stayed on the spot until the place closed, and the children began to file out to what homes they had. The writer stopped one boy, and asked: “Tell me, boy, for whom do you work?” The child saw the fine clothes the man wore and knew him then to be upper-class. So he replied: “Why, for people like you, sir.”

 

At that moment, the man’s mental map of the world changed. He saw himself no longer as someone in danger of losing everything, but as a writer again, a man gripped by a passion to tell the story of what he had seen, what was going on in his society, and how even children were made to toil so their families might not starve. And he would make the story available to all, whatever their income.

 

The man went home, and wrote, and wrote. For the first time in days, he laughed, he ate, he slept. When finally her husband was resting, the young wife came quietly into the study and picked up the manuscript of the work just completed. On the title page she saw “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.

 

What made the difference for Dickens? Was it not the reclamation of his dream, his passion, his center, his mission? When he paid attention to what lay at the heart of his being, everything else fell into place. And his works, whether “A Christmas Carol” or others, have touched and influenced countless lives.

 

Christmas affirms that God came into the world, born of Mary, as a human being and lived among us. He was fully engaged with the world, loving it, giving himself to it and for it. If we want to know the joy of Christmas, the reclamation of our center, our power for living, if we wish to rejoice with Mary in God our Savior, might it just be that it will be found in our own engagement with the world, our entering into the suffering and need of others, seeing the world through new eyes, a world where favor rests on the lowly, the hungry are filled, the proud are scattered and the humble are gathered?

 

That is the challenge of Christmas, a challenge on the other side of which is joy, energy, and self-understanding we may not have not known before. A place where we just may sing our own Magnificat and believe once again that anything is possible.

 

© 2008 Tom Cheatham

 

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