In this episode, as we get ready to celebrate Christmas, we dive into three stories that perfectly represent Jesus’ work and influence in our lives.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our Becoming Your Best listeners wherever you may be today. A few years ago I was privileged to travel to the Country of Mauritius. It is located 2,000 miles east of the African Continent in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is a member of the African trading block and is considered part of the African Continent. Mauritius is an extraordinary country with a population with a wide variety of religions and political persuasions. People are very different from one another. However, this is a country that has learned that if they are going to be the most successful, most productive, and most happy, it will be when they celebrate their differences. This is a small island, yet it has the number one economy in the African Continent. They have an extremely high literacy rate, almost no crime, and a great place to live. One of the reasons is that they don’t tolerate their differences, they celebrate their difference. They are comprised of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, to name some of the more prominent faiths. I love this culture of inclusion and I love visiting and being with the people of this wonderful country.
Today, I hope to follow their tradition and their lead by celebrating the Spirit of Christmas during this wonderful time of year. It is a time of love, tenderness, giving, receiving, and doing good. It is a time of rich tradition. In this podcast may each one reflect on your traditions and memories of Christmas. What does it mean to you? How can you bless others with the Spirit of Christmas? First and foremost, the purpose of this holiday is to reflect upon and celebrate the Life of Jesus Christ. His birth, what his birth met to the world, and how his life has influenced billions with hope, comfort, direction, and love. He opened the doors to the resurrection and to the purpose in this life and in the life to come. What greater gift could we receive not only for this time of year but throughout the entire year and our lives. There is a special spirit of Christmas that has spawned movies, songs, poetry, and wonderful stories that inspire us all. His life reminds us all to be better.
In this podcast today, we will go down a bit of historical memory lane and think of some of these types of things that remind us about the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of Christmas. The stories and movies I have chosen to share are “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I presume almost everyone listening today has read, watched, or heard of these classic stories with the reminder of a powerful and moving story that touches each one. I will finish with another fun, sweet story inviting each one to consider how we can bless others with the Spirit of Christmas. Well, let’s begin with A Christmas Carol. Esther Lombardi gave a great overview of this classic tale. This will be a podcast of storytelling and I hope you enjoy it. Pull up a chair and enjoy. If you are driving, just don’t close your eyes.
Charles Dickens is one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era. His novella, A Christmas Carol, is considered by many to be one of the great Christmas stories ever written. It’s been popular since its first publication in 1843. Dozens of movies have been made of the story along with countless stage productions. Even the Muppets took a turn acting out this story for the silver screen with Micheal Caine starring in the 1992 movie. While the story does include an element of the paranormal, it is a family-friendly tale with a great moral. This short tale takes place on Christmas Eve when Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits. Scrooge’s name has become synonymous with not only greed but hatred of Christmas cheer. Bah humbug! And I’m going through this story because I know we’ll all enjoy it. He’s portrayed at the start of the show as a man who only cares for money. His business partner, Jacob Marley, died years earlier and the closest thing to a friend he has is his employee, Bob Cratchit. Even though his nephew invites him to Christmas dinner, Scrooge refuses, preferring to be alone. That night Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Marley who warns him that he will be visited by three spirits. Marley’s soul has been condemned to hell for his greed but he hopes the spirits will be able to save Scrooge. The first ghost is of the Christmas past who takes Scrooge on a journey through the Christmas of his childhood, first with his younger sister, then with his first employer, Fezziwig. His first employer is the exact opposite of Scrooge. He loves Christmas and people. Scrooge is reminded of how much fun he had during those years. The second spirit is the ghost of Christmas Present, who takes Scrooge on a tour of his nephew and Bob Cratchit’s holiday. We learn that Bob has a sickly son named Tiny Tim and that Scrooge pays him so little the Cratchit family lives in near poverty. Even though the family has many reasons to be unhappy, Scrooge sees that their love and kindness towards each other brightens even the hardest of situations. As he grows to care for Tiny Tim, he is warned that the future does not look bright for the little boy. When the Ghost of Christmas, Yet to Come, arrives things take a bleak turn. Scrooge sees the world after his death. Not only does no one mourn his loss the world is a colder place seemingly because of him. Scrooge finally sees the errors of his ways and begs for the chance to set things right. He then wakes up and finds that only one night has passed. Full of Christmas cheer, he buys Bob Cratchit a Christmas goose and becomes a more generous person, and Tiny Tim is able to make a full recovery.
Like most of Dickens’ work, there’s an element of social critique in this holiday tale that is still relevant today. He used the story of a miserly old man and his miraculous transformation as an indictment of the Industrial Revolution and the money-grubbing tendencies that his main character Scrooge exemplifies. The story’s strong condemnation of greed and the true meaning of Christmas is what has made it such a memorable tale. How touching. How wonderful. I just love it. I shed tears at the end of each one of these stories, and love the change of heart that Ebenezer Scrooge experiences and how his change in spirit touches everybody else. This is exactly what can happen to us and the power of our influence, of our spirit, of our moods of being a light to other people.
The next classic story and movie I wish to share is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. This is a movie I first watched when I was 28 years old, staying up late on Christmas Eve assembling tricycles and big wheels, together with my wife as she put together the Christmas stockings. As the movie got to the end, as I was up late at night, I had tears streaming down my face and so grateful for the important things of life and for the blessings of life. Here’s an overview of this wonderful tale. On Christmas Eve in 1945, in Bedford Falls, New York, George Bailey contemplates suicide. The prayers of his family and friends reach Heaven, where guardian angel second class Clarence Odbody is assigned to save George in order to earn his wings. Clarence is shown flashbacks of George’s life. He watches 12-year-old George rescue his younger brother Harry from drowning, but become deaf in his left ear at the same time. Later, George prevents the pharmacist, Mr. Gower, distraught over the death of his son, from accidentally poisoning a prescription. In 1928, George plans a world tour before college. He is reintroduced to Mary Hatch, who has been enamored with him since childhood. When his father dies suddenly, George postpones his travel to settle his family business, Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. Avaricious board member, Henry F. Potter, who controls most of the town, seeks to dissolve it, but the board votes to keep the Building and Loan open if George runs it. George acquiesces and works alongside his uncle, Billy, and gives his tuition to Harry with the understanding that Harry will run the business when he graduates. Harry returns from college married and with a job offer from his father-in-law, and George resigns himself to running the Building and Loan. George and Mary rekindle their relationship and are married. They witness a run on the bank and use their honeymoon savings to keep the Building and Loan solvent. Under George’s leadership, the company establishes Bailey Park, a modern housing development surpassing Potter’s overpriced slums. Potter entices George with a job for $20,000 a year but, realizing that Potter’s true intention is to close the Building and Loan, George rebuffs the offer.
During World War II, George is ineligible for service because of his deaf ear but is active in the domestic war effort. On Christmas Eve 1945, the town prepares a hero’s welcome for Harry, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot preventing a kamikaze attack on a troop transport. Billy goes to Potter’s bank to deposit $8,000 of the Building and Loan’s cash. He taunts Potter with a newspaper headline about Harry, but absentmindedly wraps the envelope of cash in Potter’s newspaper. Potter finds the money and keeps it, while Billy cannot recall how he misplaced it. With a bank examiner reviewing the company’s records, George realizes scandal and criminal charges will follow. Fruitlessly retracing Billy’s steps, George berates him and takes out his frustration on Mary and their kids. George appeals to Potter for a loan, offering his life insurance policy as collateral. Potter chastises George, refuses to help, and phones the police. George flees Potter’s office, gets drunk at a bar, and prays for help. Suicidal, he goes to a nearby tall bridge, but before he can jump, Clarence dives into the river and George rescues him. When George wishes he had never been born, Clarence shows George a timeline in which he never existed. Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, an unsavory town occupied by sleazy entertainment venues, crime, and callous people. Mr. Gower was imprisoned for manslaughter because George was not there to stop him from accidentally poisoning the prescription. George’s mother does not know him. Uncle Billy was institutionalized after the Building and Loan failed. Bailey Park is a cemetery, where George discovers Harry’s grave because without George, Harry had drowned as a child, and without Harry to save them, the troops aboard the transport ship were killed. George finds Mary, now a spinster, never married, and when he claims to be her husband, she screams for the police and George flees. George races back to the bridge and begs Clarence for his life back. The original reality is restored, and a grateful George rushes home to await his arrest. Meanwhile, Mary and Billy have rallied the townspeople, who donate more than enough to cover the missing money. Harry arrives and toasts George as “the richest man in town.” Among the donations, George finds a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a gift from Clarence, with a note assuring him that no man is a failure who has friends and thanking him for his wings. When a bell on the Christmas tree rings, George’s youngest daughter, Zuzu, explains that it means that an angel has earned his wings. George realizes that he truly has a wonderful life.
Just think for a moment how this world would be different without you. You, and every one of us, does more good than you will ever know. Take heart, press the course, and keep doing good—following the example of Jesus Christ—and the world will be vastly different. More different, for good, than you will ever know.
I wish to wrap up this podcast with a true story told in the Readers Digest. It too, all the way through, carries the thread of the Spirit of Christmas. Here we go. The name of this one is called “The Christmas Spirit Strikes Again”. I always dreamed of pulling off the surprise prank of a lifetime. You know, the kind you see on TV, or laugh about late at night with friends? Well, thanks to a little determination, some luck, and the generous helping of the Christmas Spirit, my dream became a reality. My family is Canadian, and although my sister moved down to Australia a few years ago to study speech pathology, she was graduating just before Christmas, but due to my own scholarly schedule back home, I would not be able to make it down in time for her graduation. She was understandably disappointed, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to be there for her on this most special of occasions. While I was talking to my supervisor the week before my sister’s graduation, the conversation drifted toward Christmas plans. When I mentioned that I would be missing my sister’s graduation by less than forty-eight hours, she commented, “Well, if you want to go, I have no problem with it, so go ahead!” I couldn’t believe my luck! I nearly jumped for joy. “Just make sure you get permission from the administration,” she added. My heart sank. The administration at my school was notorious for denying any sort of time-off requests, and last-minute pleas would undoubtedly draw nothing but ire. I almost didn’t bother asking because I knew it would be a waste of time and I didn’t feel like a thorough chastisement. Plus, I knew the answer already: no. But something in me decided to try, just in case. Maybe it was the hope that the Christmas Spirit would somehow permeate the administrative office at this time of year. When I returned home to find the Associate Dean’s reply in my inbox, I steeled myself for disappointment. I gritted my teeth, opened the e-mail, and started to read, and re-read, and re-read, just to make sure I’d understood. Approval? I could actually go? I rubbed my eyes—there must be a mistake. But no. I was flabbergasted. There was no logical explanation. I couldn’t believe my luck! The only explanation I could possibly come up with was that the Christmas Spirit had been lurking in the heart of my Associate Dean when she’d read my request, and the answer was a clear yes. Immediately, I called the airline. Miraculously, even during the busy Christmas season, I was able to change my ticket to arrive the day before my sister’s graduation.
With news this fantastic, I was bursting to tell my sister. But, fingers on the dial, I paused. Wouldn’t it be so much more fantastic if I could surprise her? I pictured myself just showing up, knocking at her door. What a state of shock she would be in! I laughed gleefully to myself as I pictured her face when she opened the door and saw me. She loves pranks and practical jokes of all sorts. Pulling off a prank like this would certainly be the ultimate gift, and if I were successful, she’d probably be more excited about my unconventional arrival than even my attendance at her graduation. Slowly the idea evolved in my mind. For a surprise of this grand scale, I needed a much more dramatic arrival than just a ring of the doorbell. For me, Christmas surprises are epitomized by presents, or at least boxes. What if I could arrive in a box? I started to plot. Then, brilliance struck. Getting delivered in a box to my sister’s house by couriers! I knew if I pulled this off, my presence at her graduation and my grand arrival would be the best Christmas present I could ever give my sister. No one appreciates a prank like a prankster! Although I was leaving in less than seventy-two hours, I frantically jumped on my computer in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and started Googling courier companies. One of the first I came across, and the only one willing to go along with my Christmas surprise was CouriersPlease. At first, the branch manager said no, pointing out that Christmas was their busiest season and he couldn’t spare a courier for this rather unorthodox request. But he suddenly and inexplicably warmed up to the idea and actually volunteered to dress up and deliver me himself. The Christmas Spirit strikes again!
Upon arrival in Australia, the manager met me in full uniform, but that wasn’t all. He’d brought one of his couriers, plus a CouriersPlease van along with the ride as well! They even had a reinforced box prepared for me that they’d already tested at the office. I’d thought it would be easiest to walk up to the doorway, and then jump in the box while they rang the doorbell. But no, they insisted; my sister might see me through the window and they certainly didn’t want to jeopardize my Christmas surprise. Instead, they parked a few hundred meters up the street, where they loaded me in the box and carried me all the way up to my sister’s, where they rang the doorbell and announced they had a delivery for her. I couldn’t see the look on my sister’s face as she opened the door to couriers with a surprise delivery, but I could tell from her voice that she was more than a little perplexed. This soon morphed into utter disbelief and shock when the box was opened and she saw her older sister sitting inside smiling up at her. She was at a complete loss for words, and I will never forget the look on her face as she opened those flaps on the box.
It was such a gift to be able to attend my sister’s graduation and to show her my love by giving her the most unique, unconventional Christmas present in the history of our family. It was a memory both she and I will cherish forever. It also served as a lesson for me: never, ever underestimate the power of the Christmas Spirit. It can move hearts, minds, and yes, even people in boxes.
Thank you, Heather Thompson, for that wonderful story.
At this special time of year, and throughout the rest of your life, may you quietly carry the Spirit of Christmas. It is the very spirit of Becoming Your Best, of transforming your life personally, in your relationships, and professionally in a way that at the end of the game, you will say to yourself, “It was all good.” And your legacy will live on far beyond your life here and into eternity. May this be one of your best Christmas’ ever is our hope and prayer. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!