One afternoon, needing a break from preparing a lecture, Charles Dickens took an afternoon stroll in Edinburgh’s Canongate Kirkyard. In his journal, he described how one gravestone’s etchings caught his attention: “Ebenezer Lennon Scroogie—A Mean Man.” Dickens mulled the stark description, concocting a story of a miserly man so harsh and joyless to deserve such an epitaph. A Christmas Carol was born.
However, Dickens had misread. The inscription said meal man, not mean man. The real Scroogie was a corn merchant (known as a “meal man”). He was gregarious and beloved and apparently a merry-maker at all the parties. A mistake (merely replacing an n with an l), led to one of our most beloved stories.
Dickens spent decades honing his craft, diligent and disciplined. With characters and sentences, he was a literary savant. Still, without that one stroll in an old graveyard, without one odd encounter where he misread a single word, he’d never have written this monumental tale. Dickens’ masterpiece wasn’t something he controlled, but a whim of grace. The word for this is mercy.
mercy (noun) compassionate or kindly forbearance offered to one in need or to one who does not possess the power to remedy their situation
Today is the eighth day of Christmas, and it also happens to be the day when we turn the calendar to a new year. Maybe we’re revving for a fresh start, fresh beginnings, new possibilities. But maybe we’re numbed by regret or loneliness or grief.
Whatever our story, sooner or later we’ll all be in need of compassion and forbearance. Eventually, all of us need help. Each of us need a generous God to bend toward us. We may work hard to pretend otherwise, but none of us have final control over our lives or our future. We’re responsible to do the best we can, but then we have to relent. We have to trust grace to be tender and kind.
All of us are carried by mercy. All of us.