Keeping Christmas Well: Past, Present, and Future

By Mark D. Roberts

December 14, 2020

Scripture: Matthew 24:36-37 (NRSV)

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”


In Dickens’s story, A Christmas Carol, after Ebenezer Scrooge was supernaturally transformed, he proclaimed, “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” The Christian season of Advent helps us to live similarly. We remember how, in the past, Jews longed for the coming of the Messiah. We get in touch with our own longing for the second coming of Christ. And we “keep Christmas well” by living in the grace and peace of God right now.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Keeping Christmas Well.


This is the fourth installment in a devotional series I’m doing called “Keeping Christmas Well.” My human inspiration comes from Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in Charles Dickens’s beloved classic, A Christmas Carol. My divine inspiration, as always, comes from Scripture. The example of Scrooge, who learned to “keep Christmas well,” helps us to reflect upon how we might do similarly — not just during Advent and Christmas, but throughout the year; and not just in our private lives, but in every part of life, including our work.

In the first four staves (chapters) of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed through the visits of three “spirits,” the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. By showing Scrooge scenes of Christmas in these three time periods, the spirits empower him to leave behind his “scroogish” ways and to become a new man.

In Stave V, after the transformation has happened, the very first thing we hear out of the mouth of the new Scrooge is: “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Of course he is referring to what he has experienced about Christmas through the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. But I would suggest that Scrooge’s proclamation is something that should be true for every Christian. We also should live in the past, present, and future.

A large group of old clocks, mostly grandfather clocksConsider the timely example of Advent. The season of Advent is one in which Christians look to the past, remembering Israel’s longing for a Messiah. You might say we are living in the past. Yet, at the same time, Advent is a time for us to look to the future, to the time when Christ comes to fully bring God’s kingdom to earth. In Matthew 24:36-37, Jesus explained that the timing of his “coming” is a mystery known only to the Heavenly Father. In the Latin version of the New Testament, the word for “coming” is adventus, from which we get the word “Advent.” In the season of Advent, we are living in light of the future advent of Christ.

Yet, living in the past and future during Advent is meant to influence our experience in the present day. By focusing on past and future, we get in touch with our own yearning for God and with our hope for Christ’s coming. We experience waiting and hoping right now. Thus, in Advent we are living in the past, present, and future, all at once. The past anchors our lives to what God has done and said in history, most of all through Jesus Christ. The future raises our eyes above the struggles of this moment, kindling our hope for the time when God’s kingdom will fill the earth with his peace, justice, and salvation. In the present we experience the reality of God’s past actions and we get a foretaste of his future. God is with us right now, through his Spirit.

You can keep Christmas well if, like Ebenezer Scrooge, you rise each day and proclaim, “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” (Well, you don’t really have to say it, but you do want to live that way!)


In what ways might it be true that you live in the past?

In what ways do you live by faith in the present?

In what ways is your life today shaped by God’s future?

How might you live in past, present, and future today?


One of the best ways I know to live in the past, present, and future is by celebrating Advent. If you’re already doing this, by all means continue. If you’re not sure what it means to celebrate Advent, you may want to read an article I’ve written, “Welcome to Advent.”


Gracious God, once again, the example of Ebenezer Scrooge helps us see your truth in a new way. Thank you for this unexpected gift.

Help me, Lord, to live in the past, to allow what you have done in the past to shape my life in every dimension.

Help me, Lord, to live in the present as I experience your reality and power through your Holy Spirit.

Help me, Lord, to live in the future, to be filled with confident hope for the coming of your kingdom.

As I live in the past, present, and future, may every part of my life be formed by your Spirit, so that I might live confidently, joyously, and hopefully. Amen.

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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near (Matthew)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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