Statistics never really tell the full story. In Australia, we have some alarming statistics when it comes to unemployment, domestic violence, Aboriginal brothers and sisters in prison, drug use, homelessness and sexual abuse in institutions- just to name a few.
The problem with statistics is that they tend to leave us indifferent and unmoved. Numbers on a piece of paper is rarely enough to get us fired up.
Stories are much more powerful, but at times even they can fail to stir us.
It seems to me, we rarely solve problems through looking at numbers and photos alone. As Bryan Stevenson says in his book Just Mercy, “we can’t solve problems from a distance, we have to come close.”
In other words, in order to get nearer to the solution side, we need to get closer to the people who are experiencing the loss, the suffering or the disadvantage.
Proximity is often the first step in changing things. I once visited Nairobi in Kenya. I stayed in a nice little guest house, around the corner for a large shopping centre. From this vantage point, Kenyans seemed affluent and comfortable. Some of the people I met assured me that this suburb and those nearby were prosperous and this was typical of life in the big city. However much to my surprise, a short bus ride later, I was in one of the largest slums in the world, with over 800,000 people living in appalling conditions.
The problem that I and maybe you suffer from is that we have got too distant from neglect, poverty and social injustice.
We need to get closer and learn the power of proximity to move and motivate us.
For me, the story of the birth of Jesus is about proximity.
In the birth of Christ, God came close. God left the distant realms of heaven and took hands and feet and became one of us, a vulnerable human.
When you love someone you want to get close to them. God’s passion for humankind drove God to take on the guise of a Galilean peasant, a carpenter’s son. God wanted to get close to our struggles, fears, hopes and aspirations. God’s unconditional love did not allow God to be aloof and unmoved by human like the mythical Greek gods who prided themselves on being above it all. The God we see born in a manger, is the God who feels our pain, understands our struggles and wants us to draw close to God and each other.
I hope this Christmas; the simple and sacred story of God coming to planet Earth in the form of baby Jesus will inspire each of us to get closer not only to those around us, our friends and family but also to those doing it tough.
Christmas need not be a season of total self-indulgence and extravagance, the Christmas narrative of God coming close through a teenage Jewess Mary, a carpenter husband Joseph, and a baby born in an outback shed, is counter-cultural. It challenges our materialistic culture and invites us to notice the proximity of God and the nearness and neediness of others.
Why not decide to give gifts to a charity or from overseas aid catalogue? If you need ideas, we have some suggestions posted on our Facebook and Twitter page, throughout this Advent and Christmas season.
For not only does the Christmas story confront the narrative of greed and me first living, it offers a message of hope, that with God’s help and following the way of Christ, our world can be more a habitat of peace, justice and forgiveness, or as Jesus would say, the Kingdom of God.
Rev Steve Francis