It’ that time of year, when the world turns its mind toward trees and candelabra; driedels and tinsel; manger scenes and Maccabees. The Holidays and all the trappings from toys and latkes to church and family. It’s a busy time and the prevailing cultural mood is that if everything in your life isn’t going exactly how you’d like, then you are doomed to wander through the whole year having “lost the holiday spirit”. Woe betide those who walk past the Salvation Army Santa with his bell or fail to greet their neighbor with appropriately festive greetings. All of this in the name of “keeping the spirit” or “keeping Christ in Christmas” or…whatever.
Recently, though, we have been on the receiving end of a darker holiday message. In recent weeks, our own Jamey Bennet has had to break the law in order to follow the Gospel calling to feed the homeless in Fort Lauderdale. A good friend of LOTW had his house robbed and ransacked and what little they did have, was taken from them in the course of an afternoon. Even our own government has been exposed for its cruel and inhuman acts towards our fellow-man. Here at the rolling of the year, we are drawn to the question: Am I my brother’s keeper?
It was in this dark world that I was reading A Christmas Carol to my daughters. This has become a tradition in our house: First The Best Christmas Pageant Ever , then A Christmas Carol. We have just reached Marley’s Ghost and his admonishment of Scrooge in light of his own sufferings.
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode? Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?”
Having lost the ability to interfere for good in human misery, Marley must watch it–blown about on the winds–and weep for his unfeeling past. Keeping his eyes to the ground and only on the nearest crisis of income and expenses, he lost the time granted him to reach out a tender hand with love and goodwill towards those he saw in need.
What are we to do? How are we to see the world in such desperate need, to feel ourselves at a loss for time and resources, and make a real change? What great work can we accomplish in the name of Jesus Christ for the life of the world and the saving of the race?
I was moved by the story from our friend: in the midst of his suffering he kept saying, “I am thankful”. Thankful for his family, his safety, his house, his friends, his work, everything that remained to him. It is so easy at these times to turn inwards, focus on our own needs, and to wait for someone else to work to change the life of someone else. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Where Marley kept his eyes to the ground and ignored human misery, this dear friend looked up and was guided by the star to the nearest manger and able to change the life of someone else he saw in need.
Dickens, through Marley, presents a very simple anthropology: “It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!” We are called to see each person, every hurting soul, every joyful laughter and tune our hearts to join that dance. Failure to do that is failure to be a Human. In every person, we are called to see the imago dei and turn in reverence to that image and raise it up in the name of Christ–no matter who or what they may be or how they may offend us. True iconodulism is not limited to the reverence of sacred images on wood and stone, but most truly directed at the living icons who wander in and out of our lives.
Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.