December 24, 2015

The True Cost of Christmas

There is a trivial observation that "Christmas comes but once a year" but the truth of the matter is that Christmas came but once; all the rest is a commemoration of that once and for all Incarnation.

While families scrimping to be able to purchase some temporary happiness for the kiddies populate the bulky end of the range of economic percentiles, and profligate spendthrifts spending unthriftfully enjoy their narrow one or two percent by buying objects of desire that will ultimately be no more satisfying to them than the toys are to the tots — while all this goes on, this is not the cost of Christmas of which I write. All of this exchange of goods and services is to the cost of Christmas what all those commemorations are to the initial and unique event itself. These are but shadows of the Thing That Was.

For it was on that night some twenty centuries ago that He Who Is became submissive to human nature, to become the child who was born in an ironic exile in his own ancestral home town. This marked the beginning of a life too short by human standards, but long enough by God's to accomplish the great work God intended: to reclaim the whole humanity and to raise it up.

And cost it did. It cost a young woman the chance at an otherwise happy but prosaic marriage; it cost her virtuous virtual husband the joys of an ordinary home. It cost them both their reputations, as the tongues would wag for thirty years about a boy known by his mother's name, rather than her husband's. In the end it cost the boy his life, in a death not easy by any standard, and hard even by the standards of those days, by which time he had come to be known by the name of his ancient ancestor, the singer of songs and slayer of giants, David. And it cost God the act of condescension. I cannot quite accept C S Lewis' strained analogy that this was to God what it would be like for one of us to become a dog, though I take his point to a point. But costly it was for God to become human, for the Word of Life to be made flesh, the deathless subject to unavoidable death.

This son of Mary, son of David, son of God, born in exile and dying on a cross, who lay in his mother's arms at the beginning and the end — he who is beginning and end — he paid the cost of Christmas, and presents it to us as a gift: the one great Christmas gift purchased once for all.

Consider that cost as you worship this Christmas eve and day. Give thanks for the perfect gift, so exquisitely suited to you, to me, a gift we could never afford to purchase for ourselves, but given freely by the only one who could.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

The image is a vision I had of Mary with the infant Jesus and the deposed Christ, a vision of joy and sorrow for Christmas 2015.

December 13, 2015

Verse for Advent III

Happiness is made of spun sugar
and dissolves in the presence of tears.

But Joy is a rock and foundation
that withstands all the waves
of our sorrows and fears.

with thanks to Ken Ironside for his sermon and inspiration

December 11, 2015

Thought for December 11

Socialism, when it doesn't work, is hardly worse than capitalism when it does.

What do I mean by that? Simply that the ideal of socialism (as a system which asks "from each according to ability," and hopes to provide "to each according to need") is a rather noble goal, one which like many a noble goal runs aground on human greed and selfishness, in particular in the tendency of supposedly equitable societies to produce oligarchy rather than equity. This is a flaw and a failure in the socialist programme, but it may be unavoidable.

However, the ideal of capitalism is to some extent the same programme adopted and engaged, driven by those very forces of greed, selfishness, and oligarchy, neatly wrapped up in the "profit motive" that drives the whole system. As with the excuse for faulty software: "It's not a bug, it's a feature," the "bug" that wrecks many socialist endeavors is the main feature of capitalism: profit. Which is why few truly "free markets" are allowed to operate with total freedom, as it doesn't take an economist to see the abuses that result when profit runs roughshod over safety both personal and societal. Some regulation is needed as a curb on profit for profit alone.

It is in large part because I am a realist rather than an idealist that I acknowledge the faults of both (and all other) economic enterprises. They all run into human nature, amplifying at times the worst in us all. But the hope of social economic justice speaks to me as a Christian, and even if it is a fond hope, it is one I will seek to realize in this imperfect and imperfectable world.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG