Christmas is coming;
the geese are getting fat,
who’ll put a penny
in the old man’s hat?
If you haven’t got a penny,
a ha’penny will do,
if you haven’t got a ha’penny
then God bless you.
I think I have it right! This little rhyme was part of my childhood and I wonder whether many of you remember it? We would sing it and, not for a moment, consider the meaning of the words.
Christmas is coming! This is the time when we celebrate the unfolding of God’s great plan for mankind. After centuries of teaching and encouraging the Jewish nation, the moment had arrived. God was to make His physical presence felt in the nation of Israel. But, He was not just going to arrive like a flash out of heaven. Instead He chose to come as a baby, vulnerable and dependent upon His mother, Mary, for everything necessary for His survival. He was coming into a world that was impoverished, materially and spiritually. There were the rich, but the majority were desperately poor. Jesus came to show the way to life in all its abundance, but we did not recognise it. When we did we turned His coming into the world into a celebration. We would fatten up the geese so that we could feast in celebration of this momentous event. We would gorge ourselves with all the special Christmas fare and we all too often skewed the picture of the babe born in a stable into a festival of excess.
But there are the poor among us. The rhyme calls us to take a step back from the indulgence of the festivities and to consider making a generous gift to an aged man. This is the essence of the message of Christ. Yes, we will always have the poor among us, but it is a poor show when we perpetuate that poverty through our apathy and lack of concern. The rhyme encourages what at the time of writing was a substantial amount of money, a penny. The gift would have been generous and would have helped the old man to eat at least a square meal. It was a gift that would have given him some dignity at this festive time.
In reality, we are not all wealthy and find that there is often “too much month left at the end of the money.” The rhyme acknowledges that but still encourages us to sacrificial giving to the poor of what we can honestly afford. How many of us hide behind our own financial pressures as an excuse for not helping the poor? If we give we might compromise our family’s financial security and it may place us in the same position as the poor folk. Better to retain what we have as a responsible steward of what we have earned. It is extraordinary that very often we find that in impoverished communities there is more sacrificial giving and sharing than there is between the wealthy and poor. What a grave indictment upon those of us who do have.
The rhyme ends with a blessing. If we are unable to give anything due to really not having ourselves, we are in the same situation as the old man. We do need God’s blessing for survival and it is perhaps good to reflect on our need to rely upon God for all things.
So this Christmas tide, may you celebrate with joy the redemption that the Christ child brings to you and as you do, please do a little more than sparing a thought for the poor amongst us, of which there are many. If you are experiencing really hard times may God bless you through the willingness of others to make your Christmas a joyous time as well.