I guess most people who read this will be preparing to CELEBRATE Christmas – yet again; and we have received cards and messages which talk about the HOPE and PEACE of Christmas. This has led us to think more deeply about why we celebrate it and what, if anything, there really is to celebrate, more than 2000 years after Jesus was born? Covid-19 and the need to vaccinate the world has spawned the saying that “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. Is it too simplistic to adapt this quotation for other aspects of life as well? How we live has repercussions around the world. What hope can we enjoy when there is little or no hope for the planet and most people in the world because of inequalities, injustices and conflict? Even those of us who want to celebrate the birth of Jesus find it so difficult, personally, corporately and nationally, to “act justly, be compassionate and walk humbly with God” (cf: Micah 6:8).
I feel outrage about the profligacy surrounding us which is particularly excessive at Christmas when millions of pounds are spent on celebrating. It’s difficult not to be seduced and drawn in, leading us to live more extravagantly than is necessary. It’s hard to know how best to “live more simply that others may simply live”. Although we continue to adapt and make changes in our lives, it’s insignificant compared with the urgent and desperate need for radical change internationally.
The world has experienced two years of the pandemic sweeping across the globe which has hit the poorest and most vulnerable people the worst. Our hope last year was that the world would not go back to normal. The global lockdowns provided an opportunity for all nations to do things differently and make radical changes as part of the recovery process. Whilst acknowledging the deals which were made at COP26 as a step forward in the right direction, we felt the outcomes were disappointing, with the richer nations failing to step up to the mark in radical, urgent, equitable and sacrificial ways. Were governments fearful that their populations wouldn’t support them in making more costly changes even though there are increasingly catastrophic natural disasters and famine due to climate change – and millions are living in extreme poverty?
Around the world, more than enough food is produced to feed the global population—but as many as 811 million people still go hungry while we eat fresh food out of season imported from around the world. After steadily declining for a decade, world hunger is on the rise again. Last year, 17% of the global population were undernourished, a crisis driven largely by conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
What hope is there this Christmas for the millions who are starving in countries like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, DRC, Madagascar, Somalia, to name only a few? WFP says “the key link between these countries is conflict… If we want to reach zero hunger, ending conflict is a major step in reaching that goal.” 64 million people are currently displaced, due to conflicts and natural disasters. Military spending continues to increase, fuelling conflicts. The gap between the rich and poor (within the UK and internationally) is increasing. The World Inequality Report for 2022 finds the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has increased globally as a result of the first year of the pandemic, with 100 million people sinking into extreme poverty. The richest 10% of the world’s population now take 52% of global income while the poorest half take just 8%.
“Inequality is not inevitable – it is a political choice” (Oxfam). Isn’t it also a personal choice? There is a growing international community of people from all walks of life who are pledging to give away 10% of their income (which we realise many Christians already do). The movement provides encouragement, information and advice on the most effective charities and ways of donating. See https://www.givingwhatwecan.org/ and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-59466051. If everyone did this, it would start to transform the world!
With such easy and instant access to news, we can no longer claim ignorance about the staggering inequalities and injustices, racism and religious intolerance, violence and suffering in the world, so much of which is caused (directly or indirectly) by us who live in the wealthy nations.
The world is caught in this vicious cycle, which urgently needs breaking for there to be any real hope. But we can’t see that happening, not in our lifetime.
So how can we celebrate Christmas? Jesus lived and died showing us that God’s way is the way of justice and equality, nonviolence, humility and servant-leadership – not just sometimes, when it suits us, but always, whatever the circumstances. Whilst so many people say what a difference Jesus makes to them personally, to what extent do we as Christians, especially those of us who live in democracies based on Christian principles, live differently and impact these key issues globally? We continue to elect politicians and governments whose taxation and international development policies consistently militate against equality and justice by not taxing the wealthy proportionately, so pushing more people into poverty. Refugees and migrants are not generally welcome despite the fact that none of us would be here without great migrations.
We also fail to understand how any followers of Jesus can ever support violence and conflict, however “just” the cause may seem – and yet we do support it, in all sorts of ways. Unlike a few people, we have never taken the actual step of withholding that part of our taxes which is used on military spending in the UK. We need to continue looking at what more changes we can make in line with Jesus’ life and teachings about justice, equality and nonviolence.
Junsei Terasawa, a Japanese Buddhist who has spent his entire adult life on pilgrimages for peace worldwide, said: “What will be the future of mankind if we fail to address this issue [of conflict]? No more empty principles! No more empty declarations on paper! Military and violence will never give the answer. What we need today is a proof of the victory of nonviolence.” There have always been a few inspiring people, of all faiths and none, who advocate nonviolence and live by that principle in humility and love, no matter what suffering they personally endure as a consequence.
Our one glimmer of hope is the inspiring witness and leadership of Bobi Wine (Robert Kyagulanyi), leader of the National Unity Party in Uganda and Presidential candidate. He was cheated of victory in Uganda’s Presidential Elections in January this year. Museveni remains in power, supported by the West. Thousands of NUP supporters have been abducted, tortured, illegally detained and killed over the past year by the military regime. Bobi Wine is a committed Catholic Christian who has worked to bring Catholics and Muslims together, with their faith being an important basis for their political activities and policies. Bobi Wine and the NUP consistently advocate nonviolent, peaceful resistance in the face of persecution and corruption and, unlike Museveni, have never resorted to arms to gain leadership, maintain power or even to put right the ongoing gross injustices and human rights abuses.
Only when everyone has justice and peace can we find real hope in the Christmas message and have reason to celebrate it. May 2022 be a year of significant change to tackle these issues before it’s too late.