Grab ‘em right away with your opening lines, or they will put your book down. As a novelist, I’ve had this advice hammered into my brain, and my keyboard. This is not an easy task.

And I’ve found this to be true with the books I pick up. Goodness…how many novels have I taken off my nightstand after 20 or 30 or 50 pages because, well, I didn’t care enough about the story or the characters. Maybe I have a poor attention span.

With Christmas around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol—one of the all-time best openings ever to a novel.

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

Dickens jammed a lot into his first paragraph. I’ve got questions that demand answers right out of the chute. For one thing, who was Marley, and how did he die? Why the emphasis on this event? Dead as a doornail, indeed. Some guy named Scrooge lent his signature to the register of Marley’s burial, to verify he’d died. Were they friends?

No way I’m putting this book down. Well done, Mr. Dickens. But beyond the opening, the author teaches us some valuable lessons I’m committed to remembering this Christmas season.

The first one’s easy. Every December we mark the Christian celebration of a miraculous event, one that occurred two thousand years ago in a manger. Yeah, it encompasses Greek, Roman, and pagan traditions of gift giving and feasting around the Winter Solstice. But Dickens subtly nudges us about the babe swaddled in a feeding trough…right in the title of his tale.

The meaning of carol would have been familiar to him: a song celebrating the birth of Christ. And the character of Bob Cratchit can be seen as a Christ-like figure, filled with humility, kindness, and selflessness.

Dickens rails against social injustice and the features of Victorian society keeping people in poverty. Whenever I watch the movie, it reminds me of the injustices done here in America in 2023. Discrimination has raised its ugly head again in the last few weeks, and we’re aghast. Have we made no progress?

A Christmas Carol is a narrative of pardon and redemption. Scrooge’s nephew forgives him every Christmas for each “Bah, humbug!” In the end, Scrooge is redeemed through his nephew’s and Cratchit’s endless fount of forgiveness, and through the wondrous grace extended by three visitors from beyond. Scrooge is made new. Once more, anyone with a Christian worldview will recognize the parallels to the cross.

The story convicts me to extend toward others the abundant love poured upon me. I need the reminder.

Example: Yesterday, as Karen and I pulled into the parking lot of our health club, a man stepped in front of our car. The engine revved a bit, but the car didn’t bolt forward. Nothing intentional…I mean, it wasn’t close. The man raised his fists, glared at me, and muttered his displeasure as he walked by. Well, I’d been attacked, right? So, I rolled down the window and rather snidely said, “I see you, sir!” What would Bob Cratchit, or Scrooge’s nephew have said?

This is a universal story, about the treasure of family and friends, and loving our neighbors, especially at Christmas because “…it is a time when Want is keenly felt and Abundance rejoices.”

Not to be outdone by himself, Dickens wrote another memorable opening to his classic, A Tale of Two Cities…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

He could have written that yesterday.

I pledge this season to make it the best of times.