leftover seasonal message

[I just remembered that in a rather sober mood just under a year ago, I wrote a post which I didn’t ever get round to publishing. Rather than updating anything, I’m releasing it now virtually untouched. I’m not going to wish anyone a merry Christmas :) but I do of course hope that if anyone’s thoughts do turn to the incarnation, even for the most artificial of reasons, some good effect will come of considering the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, his redemptive purpose in coming to the earth, and his expected glorious return.]

I caught the end of an anecdote on Classic FM’s evening concert one night I was working late before the end of the year – it involved a composer whose name I missed saying that when he would die and be called to give account to God for what he had done with his life, he would hand him the score of his Te Deum, and be sure that God would judge him with compassion.

This story appalled me for a good few seconds, before I remembered I still had a thesis to write and returned to pondering the relevance of spoonerisms for investigating phonological representations. Maybe it’s not such an uncommon way of thinking about judgment, but is it not completely absurd to think that any one single thing that you have produced in your life will be enough to give you a pass in the day of judgment, even if it was very beautiful and did make you famous and does perhaps do people some good when they listen to it. Whoever the composer was, it’s safe to say that his music was not immune from criticism even from his fellow composers (even if it was very beautiful), never mind in the analysis that God himself would make of it, who sees with precision all the flaws in all the best aspects of every human production.

And undermining his optimism much more fundamentally was the even greater absurdity of putting a piece of music in the balances on the other side of a life’s worth of sin and guilt. Surely God has compassion of a nature and to a degree that we constantly underestimate and disbelieve, but when he comes to judge the earth, there is a standard which he has published, which he will judge people by – and compassion will not override justice when he measures people up against that standard. There is of course a solution, provided in the gospel, for the crushing problem that we cannot begin to live up to his standard and have no way of making up for that failure ourselves and would really rather not be bound by it anyway – but that solution does not include any good or beautiful or beneficial thing that we have ever produced. How can a life’s worth of sin and guilt and shortcoming and failure be compensated for by any one-off?

It can’t even be compensated for by a person putting their utmost into moral or ethical or religious activities, no matter how many mitigating factors it might be possible to scrape together to excuse the faults and shortcomings which will inevitably emerge in the course of these activities. In the judgment, the compassionate judge of all the earth will do what’s right, inflexibly and unflinchingly, and unless we can have recourse to the perfect obedience and lack of imperfection of someone else to stand in for our own, there’s no way that justice will be served in our own personal case.

That is to say, there is an Advocate with the Father, whose life and death lived up to God’s standard exactly, and his person and work are available to anyone to make use of, this side of the judgment. Failing to accept the offer that reflects God’s compassion now, will be the most telling piece of evidence against us in his judgment later – but his offer explicitly excludes any contribution of ours to the case which he will make on our behalf (even supposing it seemed as magnificent to us as whoever’s Te Deum it was in the first place). ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling’ – the obedience and death of Christ is an eloquent plea, and the only one which will be accepted when the Father of Mercies comes to judge, but if it won’t do for us, there’s not much use pinning any hopes to anything of our own in his place.

9 thoughts on “leftover seasonal message

  1. A very Merry Christmas to you, Cath (thus defying the PC police) and may the new year bring you much happiness – and opportunities to understand, to a greater degree, the eternal value of the incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


  2. Cath, I won’t wish you a merry Christmas either…

    “There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.”

    Now try not to be too surprised! ;-)


  3. I hope you were able to celebrate Jesus’ birth appropriately (which is the closest I come to wishing … ahem, it’s too late anyway … and I’ve never heard of anyone wishing “a happy Boxing Day”).

    Anyway, with regard to your post, might there be the slightest hint of a possibility that the composer was alluding to the Westminster Confession that the chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy Him forever? After all, the text of “Te Deum” is a glorification / worship of God. Otherwise, I *do* agree with you, of course, that nothing we do or have produced could ever count as a “ticket to heaven” (unless you want to interpret Matthew 25:31-46 that way but I don’t expect you too, despite other Christians I know to have done so ;-)).

    May your transition into 2009 be a truly blessed one!


  4. Thankyou gentlemen :) Thanks equally to everyone who reads and/or comments! Although since it’s the season to be gushy, allow me to assure you you’re appreciated all year round :) :)


    • Ok, i should probably be really embarrassed about this but I have no idea. It’s a bit like how I promise to educate myself about the true contents of haggis, every time it comes up. :) Anyone else?


  5. Well according to snopes…

    Despite the lively images suggested by the name, it has nothing to do with pugilistic expositions between tanked-up family members who have dearly been looking forward to taking a round out of each other for the past year. Likewise, it does not gain its name from the overpowering need to rid the house of an excess of wrappings and mountains of now useless cardboard boxes the day after St. Nick arrived to turn a perfectly charming and orderly home into a maelstrom of discarded tissue paper. The name also has nothing to do with returning unwanted gifts to the stores they came from, hence its common association with hauling about boxes on the day after Christmas.

    The holiday’s roots can be traced to Britain, where Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen’s Day. Reduced to the simplest essence, its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after.


  6. Oliver, to spare you waiting any further :)

    He might then have paid a bit more attention to the questions around 85-87 (ff) for some of the fairly well defined principles the catechism outlines for *how* exactly to meet the chief end mentioned in its first question :)


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