For many, Christmas is a time when the past is conjured up again. It was for Charles Dickens. He was struggling in his writing career in 1843. His last couple of books had not sold well. His finances were tight. And his past revisited him.
When he was twelve years old his father was placed in debtors’ prison and Charles was placed at Warren’s Blacking Factory pasting labels on pots of “blacking,” a mixture used for polishing boots. He worked ten hour days, six days a week.
When his father was released from prison in May of 1824, his mother wanted to leave him there to make money for the family. For years he had to help support his parents who were not gifted in money-management.
And so, when Christmas season approached in 1843, the stress of his own situation surfaced the shame he felt from those earlier days. “No words can express the secret agony of my soul,” he wrote, “…of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position…”
Events from our past can come back to haunt us, especially in times of stress. The Christmas season, for many, is a time of stress. Extra errands. Trying to please family. Loneliness and lists: lists for gifts, lists for parties and lists for cooking. Stress. So much so that one North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.
Maybe that’s why Dickens created the ghost of Christmas Past. He knew his past haunted him. And so it might be something that haunted others too. Whether Dickens wrote his story with that in mind or not, God did. And so the God who invented Christmas did so by sending his son.
Matthew records the meeting of God’s angel and Joseph. Seeing an angel was as frightening as seeing any ghost. In most instances in the Bible, an angel shows up and people fall down. This one came in a dream and told Joseph, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
His people needed saving from their sins. According to Scripture, so do you and I. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” the Apostle Paul writes. None of us are exempt from the effect of sin in our lives.
Why not let the God who invented Christmas help you revisit your past? Here’s what often happens: something happened in the past—it could be something we did or something that was done to us—and we interpreted it in a way that is twisted. Maybe you had a mother who was constantly on you to lose weight. It could be that she was genuinely concerned about your health or it could be she was just dealing with her own issues and taking them out on you, but either way you interpreted it as not being good enough. You didn’t feel loved as you were. And so the rest of your life you have dieted and starved yourself and tried to be perfect so you can be loved.
That’s what ghosts from the Past do to us. They twist the past. The word “ghost” is connected to the word “wraith” which is connected to our word “wreath.” They all have to do with “twisting.” The things that haunt us twist our thinking and our perception.
When we revisit the past with Jesus he untwists our thinking. Sometimes we will see the lie in our past. We interpreted an event in one way. Jesus sees it another. The enemy told you that you were not smart enough, beautiful enough, strong enough, clever enough…that you were not enough to be loved. And you and I believed it at one time. Those lies come back to haunt us until we learn how to combat them. The way to combat a lie is with the truth.
Get armed with the truth. Here’s one piece of truth for you. “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Had you done anything to earn his love? Did you get yourself together before he loved you? No. You are enough already for him to love you. Let Jesus show you a different perspective on your past.
Dickens had his own shame. He had memories of debt too. When they surfaced near the Christmas season of 1843 he wrote a story. So did God. And at just the right time he wrote the chapter where a baby in Bethlehem was born to die so you and I could live.
Question: What part of your past haunts you that needs to be untwisted?