Don’t Wait for Ghosts to Wake You Up. Advent is Here.

by | Dec 19, 2022 | Advent, Pop Culture

Every few years, my family would attend our regional theater’s production of A Christmas Carol to celebrate the holiday season. The large dance party at the Fezziwigs and the snow-dusted fictional Victorian streets conjured romantic dreams of Christmases past. Tiny Tim’s “God bless us everyone” signaled that our family gatherings were fast approaching. After Thanksgiving, I snuck out to see Jefferson Mays’s one-man production of A Christmas Carol. I somewhat guiltily relished the chance to indulge in a favorite a bit early. I told myself, “there’s nothing wrong with stealing a bit of Christmas into this Advent season.” 

To my surprise, I found that this rendition of A Christmas Carol is perfect for Advent. Stripped of its sumptuous festive gatherings and quaint cityscape sets, the solo performance invites the reader to hang closely to the narrator’s every word. I entered the mind of Ebenezer Scrooge like never before. The play’s themes are not dwarfed by a large cast and over-the-top holiday cheer (which usually, I eat up). Two ideas shine like a bright star, animating my prayer this December.

First, Advent is a time to look forwards and backwards. 1 When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come leaves Scrooge, he belts out that he will always remember Christmas past, present, and future. In the season of Advent, Catholics do the same. We recall the event of the Incarnation when God took on our own human flesh. But we also look forward to when Christ will come yet again. Advent is as much about anticipating the face of Christ to come as imagining the historical Jesus.

Scrooge taught me that it is equally important to look at the now, too. When I ignore the present, I miss the ways that God is currently breaking into the world. As I made my way home from the theater, I marveled at the LED snowflakes, candles, and trees adorning Fordham Road. I recalled all the Advents of my past and noted my own excitement for Christmas. I pondered how eagerly the composer of classic hymns such as “O Come O Come Emmanuel” must have awaited Christ to pen such timeless lyrics. To me, all this waiting for God was God already breaking into the world. That desire for our Savior is a sign that the Savior is somehow already among us.

My prayer has found God present in this Advent in other ways, too. I see the Spirit at work in beautiful Advent concerts at Fordham University and my local parish. Acts of charity at this time of year such as food distributions and giving trees reflect the generosity of God. Indeed, an eye to the present reveals an ongoing Christmas and a never-ending Incarnation of God in our world. However, this outlook also reveals pressing challenges, like how the Ghost of Christmas Present highlights Poverty and Ignorance. This brings me to my next Advent lesson.

Second, Advent is a time of penitence. Memorably, Scrooge rectifies his errors at the end of the play. He doubles Bob Cratchit’s salary, buys the prize goose, and reconciles with his nephew. The former miser even becomes a second father to Tiny Tim. Scrooge can only enter the joy of the Christmas celebrations after these actions. Without amends, he would have been an unwelcome specter over the Cratchit Christmas or have continued to be the butt of the joke at his nephew Fred’s gathering. Instead, his atonement restores right relationships and joy prevails.

Likewise, as Catholics, we too are called to penance in this Advent season. That’s why we burn purple candles and the priest wears violet. Our Eastern brothers and sisters maintain fasts throughout this season. Inspired by Scrooge, I questioned what concrete actions I might need to take. I cataloged which relationships require special attention. I searched within to see what else besides God is making a home in my heart. When the first note of “O Call All Ye Faithful” rings out at 12:01am on December 25th, I want to have the joy of the giddy Scrooge at the play’s conclusion. First, I must take concrete action to shift my focus onto God and neighbor and not myself.

I wonder, though, if I really have the time to do all the actions that I have planned. It’s the end of my semester. There are papers to write, not to mention the Christmas parties to be planned, gifts to be purchased, and cards to be written. I sometimes feel like Scrooge, needing to work until the close of business on Christmas Eve just to get ready for the holiday. 

That’s precisely the point. Scrooge’s conversion requires midnight visits from three ghosts to point out his misplaced priorities. Advent extends the invitation to correct our course before spectral visitors need to do it for us. The Advent lectionary is filled with beautiful imagery from Isaiah countered with Gospel admonitions to stay awake. I would rather do the reflection on my own time than have three ghosts–much less God–jolt me out of bed to do so.

A Christmas Carol will always be a classic.If Dickens had called it “An Advent Admonition” it would not adequately convey the Christmas cheer that the story exudes. Nevertheless, when I go to light that first purple candle next year, I will remember Scrooge’s penance and look to the past, future, and present. And go to sleep secure that I am doing my reflection on my own time.


Image courtesy of A Christmas Carol Live.

  1. Patrick Hyland reminded us of this with his Advent Examen a few weeks back!

Ty Wahlbrink, SJ   /   All posts by Ty