In her first Christmas Message, the Bishop of Llandaff, June Osborne says gifts are not just for Christmas
When Facebook, the social media platform, recently published its Year in Review, the headline which accompanied it declared ‘2017 was terrible’. It’s easy enough to see why. The sobering events of the year included the violent shootings in Las Vegas, terror attacks in Manchester, Barcelona and London, and the deadly fire at Grenfell Tower. There was a devastating earthquake in Mexico, and Hurricane Harvey – the costliest tropical cyclone on record – in a year of many natural disasters.
This particular review of the year focuses on how people came together on Facebook to support one another. Alongside disasters and tragedies, people have also used social media to express their views about what kind of behaviour or actions gain their approval. Think of the #metoomovement in which thousands of women have spoken up about sexual harassment and questioned the tawdry treatment which comes their way which surely relates to domestic violence.
We celebrate Christmas at the end of this year with such things in mind. Perhaps you can say a prayer for one of those communities affected by such suffering as Christmas reminds them of their loss? Yet if 2017 was ‘terrible’, we also remember that we bring it to a close with a festival of giving. As Christians recall how God gave His own son, born as a baby and sharing in human experience, we are invited to remember the power of gifts.
We know how gifts have the capacity to change relationships. Humanitarian gifts can reach out across the globe and transform the relationship between peoples and nations. When those enjoying safety and security reach out to those in dire need gifts not only make things better, they make friendships and they connect us.
In a time of austerity, gifts also spread a message of abundance rather than scarcity. There is no limit on the gifts of kindness, dignity, consolation, humour and compassion we have available. We all have the gifts of time, attention and encouragement to distribute as we choose. In giving of ourselves, we will always find such gifts replenished and rewarded. Whatever our material limits there is no shortage of what we have to give, our only danger comes from thinking we are best served by keeping what we have to ourselves. Surely that is the whole point of connecting with one another, to risk being givers not endless consumers or ‘scrooges’.
When Ebenezer Scrooge awoke on Christmas morning to find his worst nightmares weren’t true, he was a converted man. To show his change of heart – from meanness to generosity – he gave the Cratchit family a gift, a prize turkey. It was the symbol that he was no longer going to live wholly for himself but for what he could do for others. And he danced for the joy of it.
Christmas is a time for gifts but giving isn’t just for Christmas. It is the way to find the true value of things in good times but especially in ‘terrible’ times. For it isn’t tragedies and disasters which destroy us but facing them without faith and hope and love. So let us dance for the joy of giving this Christmas and in whatever challenges 2018 might bring.
Picture of Bishop June © Huw Ryden