'It's Christmas'. Those two words often justify the fact that we spend more than we can afford and consume more than we know is good for us as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
While many of us celebrate Christmas in the warmth and comfort of our homes surrounded by loved ones, countless Christians around the world will continue to be persecuted for their faith. In Syria, thousands are stranded in bleak winter conditions, grieving the loss of relatives killed in conflict.
In Egypt, Christians are specifically targeted for persecution. Closer to home, the increasing demand for food banks is symptomatic of a nation in a state of moral poverty.
Are we personally doing everything God asks of us to help those less fortunate than ourselves?
Christianity is not a comfortable faith. Jesus calls us to 'take up your cross and follow me' (Mark 8:34). It is not a faith where we select the elements we prefer and ignore those that cause personal or moral discomfort. We are called to be the body of Christ in the world, to reflect God's compassion and love.
If we are to face God with an open and honest heart, can we close our eyes to what is happening around us? It is not acceptable in God's eyes to say there is nothing we can do, or convince ourselves we are powerless to make a difference.
Christianity is about the power of one – effecting change in the world, one person at a time.
This year we can all consider doing at least one of the following:-
• For every pound spent on Christmas gifts, donate the same amount towards helping others in the Philippines, Syria and other places around the world where Christians live in poverty or face persecution.
• Forego the excess of a traditional Christmas lunch and try a 'pauper's Christmas'. It's a more sustainable, cost-effective option – and it focuses on the fundamental message of Christianity. The money saved can be donated to a local charity or foodbank.
• Invite someone homeless or a family living in poverty to share in your Christmas celebrations. Jesus didn't spend his time with the most popular, wealthy or influential members of society. In Luke 19 he chooses the house of the most reviled character in which to dine – that of Zacchaeus, the tax inspector. Do we spend time with the most unfortunate people or play it safe?
• The second commandment Jesus gave us was 'love your neighbour as yourself'. How many of us know our neighbours? Is there someone close by who may be spending Christmas alone? A simple gesture of kindness can transform the Christmas experience of someone isolated or suffering from depression.
• For a complete break from tradition, dare you opt for the 'Buy Nothing Christmas' promoted by Adbusters? It's a drastic step and they also suggest an alternative of shopping locally or from independent shops rather than with the big retailers or online.
• Traditionally, donations to charities rise at Christmas from Christians and non-Christians alike but as part of our New Year resolutions, it gives us the opportunity to make it a lifelong habit. To adapt a cliché – Christianity isn't just for Christmas, it's for life.
Jesus challenges the apathy and comfort for those of us in the privileged Western world who are fortunate to have more than enough to meet our needs – and that includes Christians.
2,000 years ago the birth of a fragile baby quietly began a spiritual revolution. Perhaps this year we can approach God with a clear conscience and do our part in continuing that revolution – one person at a time.