You know the names even if you've never read the story. Ebenezer Scrooge; Tiny Tim; the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come — they've been an integral part of our culture for well over 150 years.
The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser who is transformed by a ghostly intervention into a good and generous man on Christmas Eve, is one that never seems to grow old.
And this year is a good chance to be introduced to A Christmas Carol, whether for the first time or for the hundredth.
Disney's new "motion capture" adaptation of the film, in the style of Polar Express and others, is in theaters now. And it's a beautifully done version that I'm sure will attract many new fans to the old story. I went to see it with my children this weekend, and was not disappointed.
You should be aware that there are enough dark and frightening moments in the movie to make it inappropriate for really young children. But those who are old enough to handle it will enjoy this new update of a great story.
Why would Christians be interested in A Christmas Carol in the first place? There are those who argue that Charles Dickens helped secularize Christmas with this story — that he was responsible for taking the focus away from where it should be.
But I don't think that's true, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, when we talk about what's wrong with Christmas celebrations today, we generally don't mean that there are too many people telling ghost stories. The main problem we see is rampant commercialism, greed, and self-centeredness — the very things Dickens was railing against.
If anything, I believe, we might be able to use a few more stories like this.
Even more to the point, the story does not leave Christ out of the celebration at all. Though its expression of faith is a quiet one — in common with much of the other literature of its day — it's still there. Christ is repeatedly mentioned as the One that the celebration is all about, the One who inspires the "veneration due to its sacred name and origin."
Unlike many modern books and films, A Christmas Carol never tries to pretend that "the true meaning of Christmas" is family or togetherness or having a good time. It honors those things, but doesn't worship them.
Former BreakPoint columnist John Fischer points out in his novel Saint Ben that A Christmas Carol is about "the joy of being given another chance" — and that's not a "secular" theme at all.
As one of Fischer's characters in Saint Ben puts it: "This is as close as anyone who doesn't know Jesus can come to expressing what it means to be born again."
Seeing Ebenezer Scrooge, who treated so many people around him so shabbily, all of a sudden on Christmas Eve — when he gets a second chance — treat them with love, respect, and generosity, truly is in the spirit of being transformed by Christ.
That's why I appreciate the fact that for the most part, this new film version faithfully follows the original story, keeping several of the references to Christ and His birth.
If you go to see this film, don't get too distracted by all the high-tech trappings, as fun and fascinating as they are. Look for the deeper theme of a life forever changed on the Savior's birthday, and remember that this story, in its own way, reflects the greatest story ever told.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.