Works such as "The House of Christmas" The Everlasting Man, and "A Curse in Free Verse" display Chesterton's fascination with the reality of the Incarnation. Whether as a prayer, a philosophy, or a political statement, Christmas, the Incarnation of God, was understood by Chesterton as apt matter for any matter pertaining to mankind. After all, the whole point of the Incarnation is God being made man. If any human idea or activity can escape relevance to that phenomenon, it has yet to make itself known.
Today is the Second Day of Christmas in the Year of Grace 2003 (yes, it is still 2002 in the secular calendar, but the Church began her New Year at the beginning of Advent on December 1st). Those who observe the Feast of Christmas in the context of the Season of Christmas remember today the martyrdom of St. Stephen the Deacon, the first disciple privileged to share in Christ's Passion. We rejoice not only in the gift of God sharing human life with man, but still more in the divine life bestowed on man. Christ is the nexus whence these two realities meet, and Christmas is the condition necessary to bring about their consummation at Good Friday and on Easter Sunday. "Alleluia!" is the common acclamation of believers responding to each and both of these Mysteries.
Another world, however, shares space and time with the faithful on earth. That is the world of commerce and commercialism. It is the venue of marketing material merchandise for the sake of monetary multiplication. There today can be found sales, crowds, and leftover hams and geese. There not to be found is euphoria, receipts to return unwanted goods, much mention of the admonition to have "Happy Holidays!" or awareness that the party has just begun. In that world instead is something more akin to a hangover than to merry-making.
Their hangover is caused, according to the morning newspapers today, by a retail-shopping binge described as "dismal", "depressed", and "disappointing". Another essay will have to address the spiritual and psychological reasons for such dour reactions to the Birth of God on earth. Time here permits opportunity only to look at some of the financial explanations of our friends in trade experiencing such woeful returns on their frenzied investments in advertising and marketing these last few months.
What accounts for the gloom clouding over Wall Street and Wal-Mart is a matter of accounting. After-holiday depression is inevitable in a consumerist economy. Regardless of how much or how little is sold, disappointment can not be avoided. There lurks a dismal reality behind all profits, increased or diminished.
Let's pretend that last year the retail sector experienced an average period of profits for the "holidays". Then let us indulge the fantasy that this year had profits surpassing any other year on record. Our imagination will allow us to believe that this year's profits exceeded last year's by thirty-seven percent!
In response to this boom, we might safely assume that stores will hire more employees, give large bonuses, and open new outlets. Stockholders will receive increased dividends. Tax revenues will soar. Heaven-on-earth according to mammon will be proclaimed, not by a host of angels of light on high, but by the heavy-hitters of high finance
Now, let us use last year's numbers as a baseline and look ahead to next year. Let us project that spending frenzy 2003 yields profits twenty-percent ahead of 2001. Such would be an impressive increase. Inflation at present is a paltry three-ish percent. Profits of more than seven times inflation would amply compensate increased salaries, costs of materials, and other normal business expenses (unless of course such an increase in profits resulted in arriving in a new income-tax bracket).
But in the topsy-turvy world of modern money-making, a strange reaction would occur. Rather than celebrating the fact that over three years profits have increased, there would be a near panic in that there was a decrease when comparing 2002 to 2003. Mammon's memory is maddeningly minimal.
"Wait a second, Father," it will be objected. "That decrease is of concern because of the increase in expenses that you mentioned. Continued growth requires that profits grow more than expenses. That is why the business community is so upset when profits increase slowly, much less decrease."
All of that is true. But the point here is that there are profits. The dirty little secret kept from those enslaved in the servile state is that every economic occurrence is cause for distress. Dwindling profits warp business decisions in reaction to accounting concerns rather than in consideration of customer service or product quality or employee compensation. Swelling profits demand ever greater performance each year. Actual losses shut down businesses. Profits of any kind invite visits from the tax man, interference from tax lawyers implementing laws that make criminals of citizens, and a sense of entitlement that separates the governors from the governed.
Mammon simply will never be pleased! No matter how much you give him, he still wants more. When you have given him everything you have, he will leave you blaming yourself for your feelings of emptiness. If only you bought something more, then you would be happy.
It is still too soon to say for sure, but the last numbers out about this year's orgy of consumerism suggest that there will be an increase in profits of around three percent over last year. Not stunning by any measure, and barely ahead of inflation, true, but profits all the same. Why is that not enough?
Because the video games are not enough. The dolls and choo-choo trains are not enough. The extravagant meals are not enough. The diamond rings and titanium golf clubs are not enough. The incredible wealth exchanged and hoarded is not enough. None of that is enough to satisfy man's true want.
What is really wanted is the quiet of a winter night, the whisper of angel wings overhead, the awe of simple folk aware of a miracle in the making, a Mother embracing the best gift ever given, and the divine Giver cradled in her arms. Those who received such blessings this Christmas are very happy indeed today. Our happiness will not end with the business cycle or with the next market-mandated holiday or with what passes for a life in this death-ridden world. Our happiness in the Child born to us is the happiness of children: it is fervent, ecstatic, surprised, grateful, and eternal.