Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Scrooged -- ghosts of Christ and Christmas

Director: Richard Donner, 1988 (PG-13)

One of my brothers-in-law has a Christmas tradition: he watches Scrooged on Christmas Eve after the family gathering at the patriarch’s home. I don’t have this particular tradition, but wanted to watch this old film to put perspective into Christmas this year. Let it be said, I have not read the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” upon which this 20th century adaptation is based. But like everyone, I recognize Ebenezer Scrooge as one of the modern villains of Christmas, much like the Grinch.

In Scrooged, TV executive Frank Cross (Bill Murray, Fantastic Mr. Fox) is putting on a live TV version of the Dickens classic on Christmas Eve. But Cross is a personification of Scrooge himself, firing a coworker hours before Christmas because he disagrees with him, ripping down a kid’s drawing because it showed Mrs Claus with 11 fingers, despite the fact that it is the child of his secretary. Part of this is due to his upbringing. When we see his past, his dad Earl (Brian Doyle-Murray, one of three of Bill Murray’s brothers in this movie) tells him as a four-year-old: “All day long, I listen to people give me excuses why they can’t work . . . ‘My back hurts,’ ‘ my legs ache,’ ‘I’m only four!’ The sooner he learns life isn’t handed to him on a silver platter, the better!” And he learned, and passed on this humbug lesson to those around him.

Like in the book, Frank is visited by a ghost who tells him he is going to be visited by three more spirits: the ghosts of Christmas past (David Johansen), of Christmas present (Carol Kane) and of Christmas future. After the first of these, Frank calls an old flame, Claire (Karen Allen, Raiders of the Lost Ark), one he has not thought about or spoken to in a decade. She is chalk to his cheese. While he is controlling the world, she is saving it, working in a downtown rescue mission. His past comes out in his present advice to her: “Scrape ‘em off. You wanna save somebody? Save yourself!” What an attitude, on Christmas Eve even. He has no Christmas spirit.

No literary classic, this is still a funny film. Murray is perfect as the self-absorbed president who cares more for revenues than relationships. Allen is girl-next-door pretty, a good foil for Murray. Johansen is over the top as the first ghost, but Carol Kane steals the show as ghost of Christmas present, putting Frank in his place through careful use of fists and toasters.

Watching this film, I pondered the three ghosts and reflected what it would mean if they were of Christ not Christmas.

The ghost of Christ past points us back initially to his pre-existence. He was with God before the world was created (John 1:1-2). But after humanity fell (Gen. 3), God’s rescue mission kicked in, and Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem (Lk. 2:4-7). Giving up his position in the godhead, he humbled himself and took on humanity’s flesh (Phil. 2:4-8). Born, he grew until he could fulfill his mission to die on a cross in our place. Then echoing Frank’s words the crowds (Matt. 27:40), the soldiers (Lk. 23:36) and even another crucified criminal (Lk. 23:39) told him, “Save yourself”. But to do so would negate his purpose to save the world (Jn. 3:16). Death, though, did not hold him, and he resurrected on that first Easter day.

The ghost of Christ present reminds us that he lives with us even now. To all who would follow him, he calls into his family (Jn. 1:12). To these he gives the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26), the third member of the Trinity. This is the mystery of our age: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). We may forget him more often than we desire, but he does not forget us. He remains in us, an ever-present help (Psa. 46:1).

And then there is the ghost of Christ future. Unlike for Frank, where this ghost appears as the grim reaper carrying lost souls in torment, Christ will appear as the King of kings (Rev. 19:16), glorious in white. He will bring the armies of heaven with him (Rev. 19:14), and will defeat death and cast it into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

At the end of Scrooged, after Frank’s interactions with his ghosts have transformed him, he declares to the cameras and hence to viewers all across the country: “It's Christmas Eve! It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!” Why does it have to be like this for only two hours once a year? Can’t we act nicer through the whole year? If we follow Christ, we can. He can make us to be the people he always planned for us to be, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). He will make us Christ-like (Rom. 8:29). Let’s let him do that this Christmas.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Copyright ©2012, Martin Baggs

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