I confess, that as I read this morning's appointed readings for Morning Prayer (Abram, Sarai and Hagar to be precise, and indeed to prove that I do remember), a thought jumped into my head that had no unearthly business being there. And no, not that sort of thought - how dare you.
It occured to me that the monetary yield of my vine-tending would have been deposited into the off-shore account, and it was a thought that offered some small relief - though why the plight of Hagar prompted this train of thought I have no idea.
And so it is that the meagre shekels of my stipend were paid into my account and that I am no longer borassic-lint and borderline bankrupt ... for a day or two. I don't normally worry about pay day as I am blessed to (finally) be a person without debt and provided for by a wife who knows the manner to which I have become accustomed. It's a January thing. Payday at the end of January was always a matter of some relief, even back in the days when my monthly income could buy me two Mars bars, not just the one. And the reason: Christmas.
I have observed an alarming trend in recent years with the proliferation of Christmas clubs and savings enterprises, which is to say at the same time as it is made easier to pay for Christmas people then go mad on it. One present for little Persephone is not enough. Presents measured in the Transit Van-load is not the new chic! I remember the first (or was it the second?) Christmas after we had the Twins Aculae. So many presents did they receive that we had to pace their opening over several days for fear of overwhelming the poor poppets. The simple fact is - people spend ridiculous and non-representative amounts on their Christmas festivities, people whose appetites for apparent altruism are fuelled by the heart-tugging advertising campaigns of the likes of John Lewis and Tesco. The sad result of this is that people are largely wiped out financially throughout January - the very same month during which the second dozen pricey gifts have been forgotten by the darling who only wanted to play with the bog box they all came in. Even those of us not given to seasonal extravagance feel the pinch. Our kids got a couple of dog biscuits and a suck on a napkin for dinner, but still the coffers were squeezed until the pips squeaked.
I am willing to bet that people are already stashing their hard-earned for Christmas 2014, or else making the first card-payment for the stash of gear bought for Christmas 2013. I could of course blame baby Jesus who received lavish and multiple gifts from his well-wishers, but that would be churlish and would see me de-frocked. But look back on the Christmas that has just passed us by and seems so long ago and try to remember the highlights: yes, I loved my presents and I delighted in my dinner but the fact is, the best of Christmas by far (and not including the spiritual and religious for a moment) was that I was able to sit with my children piled on top of me while some pointless telly blathered on in the corner of a room bathed in the flickering lights of the Tree. That will be my enduring image of the good Christmas that I just had. And to be honest, I couldn't have bought that experience will the tea in China.
I wonder if the Church doesn't have a role in encouraging people, believe it or not, to do less for Christmas. We cannot fight for our Festival without taking a lead in its effects, even those effects that we quickly blame on over-commercialisation. Perhaps we should focus on the Christ-child, not surrounded by the latest output from the Apple Corporation, but was surrounded by love even in the most profound poverty.