Joy of giving is the truth of Christmas

Many refugee children across Europe have little to celebrate this Christmas
Many refugee children across Europe have little to celebrate this Christmas

This Christmas, in the true spirit of Christian charity, all of us should call upon our representatives in Stormont and in Whitehall to think about an issue that reaches beyond the confines of domestic affairs to the greatest humanitarian issue of today: namely the floods of refugees fleeing unrest across the Middle East.

The British response to this has been muted. Yes, we have welcomed Syrian refugees to our Province and elsewhere in the UK, but we have hardly responded to this issue with the kind of magnanimity of spirit one might hope for. The reality is that right across Europe an alarmingly high number of child refugees are scared and defenceless, have been orphaned in conflict, robbed of stability, a place to call home, the security of family to care for them and find themselves in squalid camps where they must fend for themselves and do not know where their next meal will come from.

Imagine it: children who must now parent themselves and their siblings having made the traumatic and desperate journey to Europe in search of things we can all mostly take for granted: refuge, nutrition, safety, being part of a culture whose language and practices we understand and therefore do not feel frighteningly intimidated by.

These children are stuck in a limbo most of us will not have to face the full horror of since to this day Anglo-American orthodoxy has managed to enshrine the evil and pernicious idea that so long as those who suffer are in a foreign territory the issue is not one of priority. And yet why should it not be a priority? Far too often we find ourselves beholden to an insular patriotism and philosophy of nationalism that refuses to look beyond local borders. This idea that what happens beyond the confines of our own country is not as important a moral concern is a deeply immoral position and it is precisely for this very reason that evil can flourish elsewhere when good men decide to do nothing because while locked in debates about domestic issues that are crucially not of earth-shattering importance, elsewhere suffering we have the power to stop by word and deed continues.

Christmas is a time of people coming together in a spirit of good will and charity. It can also be a time when families realise that they are more given to the airing of grievances and stony faced resentment than conviviality and love - but each family is both happy and unhappy in its own particular way and real life is generally not directed by Disney. But what about if we thought once more about the fact that a certain person who died in order to make a very important point about self-abnegating love some 2,000 years ago said very clearly, and better than anyone else could, since He was the Messiah, that when asked ‘Who is my family?’, He very awesomely made clear that we should think of family in terms of the human family, as in all of humanity, as in so-called enemies as well as friends.

And I think that means that each of us should be involved with all of mankind so that it should very much matter to us if there are millions of refugee children from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere who cannot expect to find the comfort they are looking for this Christmas. How amazing would it actually be if instead of just worrying about things nobody should really care about like turkey or five gold rings, we also donated to one of the many organisations working to help refugee children today? Because if Christmas is about Christ, and I certainly believe it is, then that kind of world-changing charity is exactly what redemption and joy is all about. We might even find more joy in giving than receiving.