Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Gift of a Good Book

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . . (John 3:16)

There’s an irony in the fact that the man who wrote A Christmas Carol, giving us the tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge, lost money on the publication of his story.

In the fall of 1843 Charles Dickens and his wife Kate were expecting their fifth child. The writing he was doing at the time was not selling well. He was saddled with a large mortgage and family members were adding to his financial pressures with their own requests for money. In October Dickens began work on A Christmas Carol. The book was finished just before Christmas 1843.

The story is rooted in the soil of social problems that plagued England in the mid 19th century. Dickens was especially troubled by the hardships suffered by the children of London’s poor. The ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’ shows Scrooge the sight of two destitute children, named “ignorance and want.” Dickens’ intent in writing A Christmas Carol was to wage war on ignorance and want, and he labored to advance the cause of education for the poor.

As for publication of the book itself, Dickens and his publishers had different ideas about how the book should be produced. Dickens was determined that A Christmas Carol would be a lavish volume. He ended up using his own money to produce a book with an attractive binding, gilt edged pages, and hand colored illustrations. In addition to this he then set the price of the book low so that everyone could afford it.

One of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time came to us at a great personal cost, born of a heart for the poor. And the first Christmas story came to us in much the same way. In the words of the apostle John, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (Jn 3:16).

Charles Dickens gave the world the gift of a good book. God gave the gift of his very life in human form, the love and presence of God embodied. This is what we are called to be as God’s people. This involves both heart and hands.

A Christmas Carol came to us because Dickens’ heart was moved to act on behalf of the poor; the heart wanted to change the lives of real people. His hand possessed a particular skill and he worked at his craft, producing art that would touch the hearts of others.

In some way God has gifted you and calls you to use that gift in a way that is congruent with God’s own heart and his purposes in this world. You need not be a politician or a philanthropist or an artist. Somehow, by God’s grace, you have the capacity to make a difference in another person’s life. After 169 years our hearts are still moved because Charles Dickens gave us the gift of a good book.

How will you do this? What resonates in your heart and what will you attempt in order to make a difference?

We give you thanks, O God, for the gift of your son. Grant that we might discover the gift you’ve placed in us and make us eager to share it for the good of others and the glory of your name. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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