Social Justice at Christmas
In 2016 I spent the first 2 weeks of December in Kolkata – an incredibly vibrant and bustling city in India with an abundance of joy and life. But amidst its colour and liveliness, Kolkata is also a city where poverty is much on display. Visiting some of the amazing people and projects that support those living in poverty I had the opportunity to see first-hand how many lives are limited by the circumstances and geography of their birth.
Coming back to the UK, I was thrown back into ‘normality’ in the middle of Christmas festivities. This season of abundance and indulgence contrasted with my experiences in India was so jarring for me. Hymns and Christmas carols beautifully revisit the joy and wonder surrounding Christ’s birth, but rarely focus on the challenging and humble circumstances of his arrival and life.
‘So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ Philippians 2:1-11 ESV
With these themes and memories of my time in Kolkata in mind, I created this intricate and realistic hand-crafted slum-like Bethlehem scene. Made from recycled cardboard and coloured paper off-cuts over the course of a week, this small and worn yet colourful portrayal of Bethlehem hopes to help churches and communities look at the birth of Christ in a new way. This design could be a great springboard to publicise your Christmas events but also point to something greater.
During advent we wait for the birth of Jesus who, like so many in our world today, was born into poverty – in a stable and laid in an animal feed trough. He was even a refugee, fleeing with his parents to escape the tyranny of the king when he was a child. This Jesus grew, and his example and teachings have changed history. Much of his ministry focused on serving, dignifying and lifting up those in society regarded as weak or worthless. The poor, sick and outcasts of society – like the disabled, children, elderly and foreigners. His birth, death and resurrection speaks of the hope that all who are broken, marginalised or poor can find in Him. He came for the last and outcasts of society – he was one himself.
In many ways, holiday traditions and nostalgia around Christmas can be a great distraction from a world where much seems wrong and unjust. Jesus’ birth and life gives us a new way to look at Christmas – one where we believe, as partners in God’s plan and purposes for creation, that real change is really possible. I hope that this thought-provoking design, when used for your church’s Christmas worship, can help your congregations and communities focus on the needs of others and the hope the new-born Prince of Peace brings.
Ideas to help your church to engage with social justice issues at Christmas:
- So much of the church’s action and help with the poor and needy goes without mention in secular society. With so many looking to find ways to make a difference in the world – why not invite your community to help? Soup runs, Christmas dinners for the elderly, shoebox appeals… all ways you can gather your community to help make an impact on the world.
- Create your own cardboard Bethlehem scene as a church or youth group to match your publicity. Display it in a corner of your church to provide a place and atmosphere for people to pray for issues in our world. Allow people to add to it each week!
- Grab an Advent box – great way to help families pray for others to come to know Jesus in the run up to Christmas. Also provides opportunity to make things to give away to people.
- Did you know that this year our charity Christmas cards will be supporting the work of CAP? A charity passionate about breaking people from a life sentence of debt and poverty.
Have you got other ways you are engaging with social justice this Christmas? Get in touch and let us know what you are doing.