Laughter and Tears
“…the chuckle with which [Scrooge] paid for the turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”
One of my family’s Christmas traditions is to watch the movie Scrooge, one of the earliest film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I have never seen a better Ebenezer Scrooge than Alistair Sim. He is absolutely loathsome in his pre-Christmas scrooginess, and thoroughly delightful in his Christmas day warmth and generosity. Playing Scrooge requires the ability to play both a heartless miser and a generous philanthropist. Yet it’s not just a matter of being able to play two radically different characters: you have to convince the audience that these two characters are really one man whose life has been forever changed.
I think I love the story of Scrooge so much because it so beautifully captures the reality of redemption. As a sinner saved by grace, I understand how book-Scrooge could chuckle until he cried, or how movie-Scrooge could say, “I don’t deserve to be so happy!” That is the wonderful experience of new birth (John 3:3), of becoming a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), of dying to sin and being made alive with Christ (Romans 6:3–11).
If we really understand it, redemption in Christ brings with it an emotional roller coaster of laughter and tears. With our burden of sin and self-reliance lifted, we can feel with Scrooge that we are as “light as a feather.” With our debt forever paid, we can feel as “giddy as a drunken man.” Finally released from slavery and despair, we shed tears, not altogether sure whether they are tears of sadness over what we were, or tears of gladness over what we are now destined to become. When we ponder what it means to be redeemed, we, like Scrooge, simply “don’t know what to do.” The reality is too wonderful, too overwhelming, and seemingly too good to be true.
But it is true, and whether the truth of it makes you laugh or cry, may you “keep Christmas” as Scrooge did: forever changed and forever grateful.
Where’s the Sentimental Music?
Last night, after I got our two-year-old to sleep, I came downstairs to find my wife watching the movie Marley and Me. It was near the end of the movie, when the family dog, Marley, is showing signs of age and infirmity. His owner knows that Marley does not have much time left, so he takes Marley for a walk through the Pennsylvania countryside. When Marley gets tired, they stop and sit on a hilltop so the dog can rest a moment. As man and dog sit looking out over a peaceful vista, the movie soundtrack becomes touching and sentimental. It’s a signal to movie watchers to pay attention to a special moment—a moment of tenderness, intimacy, and deep emotion.
As I sat there watching that scene, I found myself thinking it would be nice if such sentimental music would play whenever we experience those kinds of tender moments in real life. Perhaps if a soundtrack kicked in whenever we had an opportunity to really connect with someone, we would pay closer attention to those moments, remembering to zoom in for an extreme close-up, gazing at our loved ones with a flattering soft-diffuse filter. Hollywood uses those kinds of effects to manufacture emotion and indicate pivotal moments, but we receive no such signals in our daily lives. We simply have to pay attention, and when we get the opportunity to connect with a spouse, a child, a friend, or a family member, we need to slow down and savor the moment. We need to look them in the eyes, listen to their words, and realize that such moments don’t necessarily come along every day.
Or do they, and we simply miss them because we don’t hear the soundtrack?