And it came to pass in those days ... that there went out a decree ...

It's a popular time of year for decrees, or so it would appear. Over two thousand years ago, Caesar Augustus decided that it was time for a census 'across the entire world'. History portrays him as a something of a cutthroat individual so it's unlikely that he actually wanted to know how many people there were. He just wanted to work out how much money he could get out of them towards the cost of expanding the Roman Empire. That's how Joseph (and Mary) ended up in Bethlehem, by the way. Augustus wanted him to hand over the hard-earned cash he'd taken for all the tables, chairs and cabinets he'd sold in Nazareth in 1 B.C.

Today, it is the turn of our own government. As of tomorrow, over 33 million people will live under the tightest Tier 3 restrictions. Yet they have also 'decreed' that schools are safe to remain open. This is despite the alarming rise in infection rates, the emergence of a new strain of COVID-19 and plummeting attendance levels which mean that a good number of students aren't going to be able to turn up anyway. Why be so bloody-minded? Aren't there safer ways of teaching and learning? And what of the many thousands of businesses and millions of people who have been affected by being open for a couple of weeks, only to have to shut down again.

The first reason, I believe, is because of arrogance. My dictionary defines this as 'arrogant adj having an exaggerated opinion of one's own importance or ability'. The government has got itself into a position where it cannot back down. It doesn't help that changing your mind in politics is almost universally seen as a bad thing and governments get little more than abuse when they make a 'U-turn', but this time they need to change course, to stop, turn around and start going in the other direction. In some circles, this would be called 'repentance' and conjure up images of torn clothes and ashes but it just means saying you're sorry for something that you've got wrong. Like that's ever going to happen!

The second reason is greed. Just as Augustus' decree all those years ago was not so much about counting the people as filling the national coffers, so it is now. I don't believe for one moment that the real reason for keeping schools open is to protect young people. Their education can be delivered and their welfare can be monitored remotely in the vast majority of cases - I did just that for four months in the summer and even saw some students make more rapid progress learning online than they did in the classroom. No, it is about parents having somewhere they can leave their children free of charge while they go off and work. Teachers have become glorified (or should that be 'vilified') childminders.

What we need today are the opposites of arrogance and greed: namely humility and generosity. Somehow, over the coming weeks, we need to get to a place where it is possible to admit you've got it wrong without fear of being ridiculed. We need to turn our thoughts from what we might get at Christmas to what we might give and hope that those in authority will do the same.

For now, though, there's time for a few more days' work and a bit of online shopping. After all, to quote St Luke " ... all the world should be taxed."

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