Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 23 - O Emmanuel

Come O Emmanuel!



December 23 Two more days: O Emmanuel (O "God-with-us"!)

O Emmanuel,
Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio Gentium,
et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domini, Deus noster.


(translation from Fr. Britt)
O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, the expectation of all nations and their Savior: COME and save us, O Lord our God.

(another version)
O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver,
desire of the nations,
Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.


Today, the last of the "Greater Feria", and the last of the O antiphons, we shall examine the most important of all Christmas stories, and one of the great gemstones of all human literature: Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This year, as more than a century and a half, the ghosts parade past us... Past and Present and Yet-To-Come, Marley, and those who are something more than ghosts: the lad who sings carols at the door, the two portly gentlemen, the charwoman, the laundress, the undertaker - and the pawnbroker, Scrooge's nephew and his niece by marriage and their guests, Belle, the entire Cratchet clan, and of course our hero, who if he were real would be by now one of the greater saints in the Canon: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Yes, for his conversion ranks with those of people like St. Paul or St. Augustine... I often wonder: was it perhaps that Marley had converted, and perhaps was given this sentence of haunting? Or what? But we have no time to explain the heavenly economy. Enough for us that someone prayed for dear Ebby - perhaps it was Belle - perhaps it was Tiny Tim - perhaps it was Bob? But like Stephen praying for Saul [Acts 7:59], someone must have prayed very hard for Ebby. And the graces won were not won in vain: explain the four "ghosts" as you will, the Ebenezer Scrooge of Christmas and after was clearly something converted from his pre-Christmas state: "...amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." [Mt 18:3] And so, rather than a negative epithet or curse, like "Grinch", the name "Scrooge" is a title of honour! Let us, please God, turn and be like dear Ebby, and keep Christmas, all the days of our life.

Perhaps I ought to end there. But there's some more to say.

Dickens himself grasped that particular idea of the gospels - the need to convert and become like a little child - and framed it in a most important way:
for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.
[Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 3]
But Dickens - and Christmas - call us to a greater conversion indeed - one that smacks of (dare I say it) Scholastic insights into (shh!) angels. Yes, for it is hinted that our heavenly role somehow involves our replacing those spirits who once fell. But that can only occur if we are able to... Well - you know the rest. Don't you?

Let me just repeat Scrooge's famous canticle of joy, and see if we do not hear a Chestertonian tune:
"I don't know what to do." cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laoco├Ân of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody. A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here. Whoop. Hallo."
[Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 5, emphasis added]
Here is not simply a conversion to a little child, but something exceedingly greater. Indeed, for haven't we all heard something about angels and taking one's self lightly? Hee hee!

But let us go back to the grand introduction, which ought to be the introduction to any Life of Christ - and no literary composition could be more magnificent in emphasizing the truth of our Lord's life and death. Indeed, it is not simply artistic, it is strongly reasoned - so much so that it might be given as a Scholastic reference in an argument about the Crucifixion. What do I mean? I mean the simple truth of why our Lord became man:
the life of Jesus went as swift and straight as a thunderbolt. It was above all things dramatic; it did above all things consist in doing something that had to be done. It emphatically would not have been done, if Jesus had walked about the world forever doing nothing except tell the truth. And even the external movement of it must not be described as a wandering in the sense of forgetting that it was a journey. This is where it was a fulfilment of the myths rather than of the philosophies; it is a journey with a goal and an object, like Jason going to find the Golden Fleece, or Hercules the golden apples of the Hesperides. The gold that he was seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. [see Mt 16:21, Lk 12:49-50] He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:339]
Yes. Hear again what Dickens says:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. ... Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. ... There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
[Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1]
Exactly! We must understand, as we understand the sun in the daytime sky, that Jesus was dead. We must throw out, as purest drivel, the whine of the "bible scholars" and such who explain it. In some sense, St. Paul has it wrong - that is he doesn't quite go as far as Dickens. It's not just the Resurrection in which we must believe, but also the Crucifixion. (To begin with, as Dickens says!)

Or truly, nothing wonderful can come of the story which the Gospels relate.

There are so many other little things - the warmth of the Weasley - (ahem!) I mean the Cratchit family. The horrid villainous mode of the pre-Christmas Scrooge. The delights seen in so many glimpses of Christmases past and Christmas present...

And does the Christmas-yet-to-come lie? No. In some sense, it does not even "sponge away the writing on the stone"... death still awaits. But what does happen is that a writing of a far more permanent character, and a far more eternal consequence is not simply sponged away, but made TO NO LONGER EXIST. So indeed is the power of sorrow, and purpose of amendment.

Oh dear Emmanuel, make us sorrowful - and then make us light and little - make us be true Christmas Scrooges, and worthily sing the great canticle of joy! Amen.

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