Sometimes I struggle with Christmas.
It is that time of the year when there is an expectation to be happy. And yet when I look out the window, there is a lot of brokenness.
65million people -- more than ever before and more than the population of the UK -- are currently displaced from their homes. Stories like Aleppo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic fill the news.
In the beginning of the year I met Afghan children in Europe who had barely survived a dangerous month-long to journey to safety, but were still relying on aid from organisations like World Vision. Later this same year, I met street children in Afghanistan who, having often lost homes and families, wanted safety in Europe but had no way of getting there.
The world seems filled with fear and uncertainty, fuelling a dangerous rise in inward-looking nationalism.
The rich world seems to be is increasingly at risk of turning its back on the poor, as the rise in inequality across the world is setting new records with reports stating that the richest 62 individuals own more wealth than the poorest 3 billion people. Last year the UK spent an estimated £24 billion on Christmas shopping, compared to the global humanitarian needs at £20bn. The latter was only half-funded.
As this is happening outside our windows, people go to church to watch the annual re-enactment of the Nativity plays, so often cast as a warm story that makes us feel good. Yet, if we scratch the surface of it, it is much more than that. It is a story about how a young couple was abandoned by their friends and family and forced to give birth in a stable. Not because they forgot to book hotel rooms, but because the citizens in the city of Bethlehem of that day, actively chose not to take them in. This is a less comfortable angle of the story, so it often gets left out.
But if we leave that out it also means we also leave out the more significant part of the story.
The Christmas story isn't a message of mere happiness. It is a message of profound hope. However, you can't get to that part without trudging through the uncomfortable bit first. As Jesus was born, the world around him left him in a stable. Shortly after his birth he was forced to flee his home country, much like the far too many refugees in the world today. He and his parents were persecuted by some authorities and abandoned by others. Eventually, he ends up going to the cross so that we could be redeemed. The most difficult part of that story is what ends bringing us the biggest hope.
It is in that context that the Christmas story becomes real because the life of Jesus shows that the hope of Christmas survives the harsh reality outside our window.
The message of Christianity asks us not to close our eyes to the brokenness. Sometimes material things can distract us in order to make ourselves happy. But the Christian message reminds us that the point of Christmas was of Jesus, the messiah, born into a world of darkness to give hope.
At Christmas, God's plan of hope collides with a world of despair, and redeems it.
This should compel us to see the full story of Christmas, while remembering the fate of Aleppo, South Sudan and the 65m displaced from their homes. Facing the problems on earth head-on, God entered this world to make it right again. Not because he had to do it nor because we deserved it, but because he wanted to and because he cared that much about us.
Then he asked us to follow his example as best we can.
Practically speaking, there has hardly been a more important time to petition those with power to protect the rights of the voiceless, and to materially and financially support organisations able to provide for those in need.
Christmas is an invitation for us to look at the world like God did and, through the hope we have been given, give hope to others.