Christmas Choices in a Broken World

22/12/2014 12:36 GMT | Updated 21/02/2015 10:59 GMT

It's Christmas time. There's no need to be afraid, or so the Band Aid lyrics start.

Sadly, in today's world they express more an aspirational desire than an actual reality. Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Ebola outbreak give plenty of reason for fear.

Close to 150,000 children under five died this year from measles, a vaccine for which costs £1. A million children died from diarrhea as they drank unsafe water. In South Sudan, where I spent several months this year with World Vision's emergency response team, one million children have lost their homes due to violence. Two million children in the country are dependent upon emergency assistance of food and water.

The Economist will tell you that it takes wealth of only £49,000 to be among the 10% richest in the world, or £500,000 to be in the top one percent. At the same time, three billion people, half the world's population, have no more than £10,000 of total wealth, with one billion people living on less than £1 per day. UNICEF says this is one of the worst years ever for children.

In the coming days, churches across the UK will be re-enacting the Nativity scene, showing a baby being born in a manger. This scene in the stable in many cases is designed to show us hope, and makes us feel happy ready for Christmas.

But it also brings with it a warning; a warning about human nature.

The story will tell us that Joseph brought a pregnant Mary to his hometown, where all his family and relatives lived, yet there was no place for them at the inn. I wonder why they were looking for an inn in the first place, in a culture that values hospitality and family traditions. Secondly, even as Mary is about to deliver a baby in the middle of winter, she and Joseph are only kept company by a number of goats and donkeys. This is taking places in a civilised town, likely with family members and friends within walking distance able to assist.

But they did not.

A baby was born, not in a house but a stable, and with goats and donkeys instead of friends and family standing around.

This sounds bizarre, but could this happen today?

Surely 2000 years later today we have become better at looking after those most vulnerable in the world and those able to help readily do so. Or is that actually so?

On Cyber Monday, the UK spent £650 million buying Christmas presents online. The same day, food assistance was suspended to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a £41 million funding shortfall.

It is estimated that the UK will spend £17 billion this year buying Christmas presents online. Meanwhile, the total amount of humanitarian need in the world for 2014 will total £12 billion, of which half will not be met.

At Christmas time, it is perhaps good to ask what kind of world we are part of, what direction we want to move in and what role those of us with plenty have in that.

Like the people of Bethlehem, we too can choose between staying with the rich few, or share with those with too little. They say compassion is the willingness to remain with people who suffer. This Christmas we get to decide to what extent we live that out.

Perhaps the question is if Christmas is about the few of us in comparative palaces or the many children in the stables of our world.