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December 16, 2009

Here’s a little piece I wrote for our local newspaper

Rejoice! When you hear that word, you know Christmas is nearly here. After all, which of us uses it in our everyday conversation? I recently heard a teenager use it. She then followed it up with ‘whatever that means’. She was promptly told it meant ‘be happy’. But I fear “happy” doesn’t really cut the mustard in our world of flattened imagination. It may be too cynical to say that happiness describes the feeling that exists between the point of purchase and half an hour after opening the packet. But it seems as if happiness has become a ‘human right’ and a duty that I have to myself. If I am not happy in my job or my marriage I get another. Whether it be in relationships or in toys, I fear that happiness gets often defined merely as having what I want.
So perhaps it’s appropriate that at Christmas time we have a strange word – “rejoice” – to signal that we are entering a strange territory. It is territory where our life-projects and wants are surrounded and interrupted by something richer, something inexplicably ‘other’. If our default setting means that ‘happiness’ expresses itself as an ‘exchange economy’, then Christmas is a sign of interruption – an interruption that stretches our flattened imaginations.
If Christmas is to be believed, what interrupts us is a divine project in which we have the ‘joy’ of participating. And ‘joy’ is the right word here. For the ‘happiness’ which so characterizes our ‘exchange economy’ is opened up by a God whose life is ‘gift’. And what God gives, we are told, is nothing less than God’s own self in history.
So what? Rejoice, the “gift economy” is here! Economics-as-usual is apparently on the way out!

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