Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Giles Fraser
It’s become almost a family tradition. Every year my Mum asks me “What do you want for Christmas?” and every year I say I don’t know. I can’t think of anything I need.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to presents. Indeed, there is something about the economics of giving and receiving that lies at the very heart of Christianity. For it’s a central insight of the Christian faith that the most important things we have in life come to us as gift, and indeed that we, as human beings, are fundamentally reliant for our happiness and well-being on the gift that others give us – most especially the gift of their love.
But living out of this perspective is never straightforward. To live by the gift of another is to be dependent and deeply vulnerable – like a beggar or a monk that survives directly on the generosity of other people.
No wonder a great deal of our time is spent seeking to manage our own well being, trying to control it, to bring it more securely within our power. But all this is ultimately foolish. For the love that comes from others cannot be successfully demanded or manipulated. It is theirs freely to give or not to give. In the end, we all have to live out of an insecure reliance upon the other - without any sense that love is something we have a right to. We don’t.
In divine terms, the word for all this is grace - the technical/theological description of divine love. One of the great disputes of the early church was whether doing good and keeping all the commandments constituted a way of forcing God to love you. Pelagius said it was and Augustine said it wasn’t. For Augustine, the love of God always came as gift. All is grace. In other words, our lives are fundamentally reliant.
All of which runs directly against the spirit of the age. For mostly, we aspire to be emotionally and financially self-sufficient, dependent upon our own well earned recourses, self made men and women.
Money, of course, is the most familiar mechanism we use for self-protection. The more we have, the more secure we feel. But this is a false economy. For as Charles Dickens’ famous story of Ebenezar Scrooge makes perfectly clear, any human being that seeks this level of protection will only end up diminished and shriveled. Human flourishing is only possible by exposing ourselves to the risk of being loved or not being loved – the risk of living in reliance upon the gift.
One popular misconception of going to church is that it is all about trying to curry favor with the Divine. Actually, almost the reverse of this is true. Christians go to church simply to say thank you for the gift that has been freely given, and given to all: the gift of God’s love. Indeed, I think pretty much all of the Christian life can be described in terms of thanksgiving, which, of course, is the Greek root of the word Eucharist. And unlike the ledgers of debt and repayment that felt so important to the unreconstructed Scrooge, the economics of grace - as indeed of love - are those of gift and gratitude. We simply say thank you for being loved. Happy Christmas.