Good authors use precise and intentional words. And in the beginning Dickens shows himself a good author. A Christmas Carol really begins, as all good stories do—after the introduction of Marley and Scrooge—with the words, “Once upon a time….” And we learn that Christmas Eve has arrived, but such a Christmas Eve that we might not want it: cold and dark. So dark, due to the time of day and deep fog, that one can hardly see across the street. And it was cold, a clap-your-hands-to-keep-warm kind of cold. Dickens wants us to feel the darkness and depression and lack of warmth. Notice the list of depressing words he uses in the first two paragraphs that start with “Once upon a time…”: cold, bleak, biting, foggy, dark, palpable…air, dense, phantoms, dingy, drooping, obscuring, and dismal. This is a painting not a story, and the author wants us to know that the cold and dark infect everything, “The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole.”
Some Christmas Eve this is. No joy, no hope, no singing, and no imagination of what could be. But in the midst of this scene, Dickens inserts a new character, nameless at this point: the nephew. And notice the words Dickens uses to describe him: cheerful, quick, heated, glow, smoked. In the midst of the dark, dismal, frozen day, here is one who is light and heat. And his first words? “A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!”
The conversation that ensues between nephew and uncle highlights Scrooge’s position in life. For something to benefit him, it must involve profit. And I would propose that Dickens wants us to see that position as a cold and dark way to live. Scrooge sees no joy in life; he sees no benefit from a holiday for the sake of a holiday. Scrooge can’t even see across the street, his world so obscured by the darkness and cold.
Our world at times must seem to millions of people much like the opening to A Christmas Carol: no light, no warmth, just a cold hard world intent on getting one more buck. And whether the world listens or not, the world needs more nephews, people who add heat and light. Jesus did that for us, inserting himself as light into a dark world. Now he calls us, his church, to continue to be a nephew for the world’s Scrooges, whether or not they listen. How can you be light and heat to a cold dark world today?