This is a short reflection I offered at the Love Makes a Way ‘Carols for Compassion’ event on 10 December 2015, outside the Sydney offices of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
The story of the birth of the baby Jesus may be the best known baby story in the world but it’s been sanitised and commercialised to the point where it too often bears no resemblance to the gritty reality of that night in Bethlehem. Christmas songs like ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ domesticate and commercialise the story to the point where the baby Jesus disappears.
The Christmas carols we’re singing today, though, are not benign shopping-holiday sing-along-tunes, but retellings of the beginning of a story of radical compassion.
As a man, Jesus recognised himself as someone who would offer the people the good news of the love of God. This was no soft, wishy-washy, love but a love so powerful that it could overturn the human order of things. The human order of things, then as now, left the poor languishing for generations, the persecuted imprisoned and the marginalised oppressed.
But the good news of God’s love was first of all for the poor and the oppressed and the marginalised. It was a totally radical message that the last would be first, the hungry fed and the humble lifted high. It was so radical that it upset the powerful, pious and wealthy. And it was such a dangerous counter-cultural message that it got him crucified.
These Christmas carols were written with the whole of the story of Jesus in mind. They look back to tell of the birth of a baby in a barn—dirty and smelly—to an ordinary, poor couple who were on the move and unable to find anyone willing to give them a room. The carols tell the story not of the compassion that the couple received that night, because there was none, but instead predict the life of radical compassion that would be the story of the baby born.
On International Human Rights Day, outside the government department charged with implementing policies designed to punish and harm people fleeing danger, there’s nothing better that we could be doing than singing these songs.
The baby Jesus grew into a man with such a powerful message that it has inspired people for centuries to challenge the systems and structures of the powerful that hurt, exclude and marginalise people. This challenge in word and deed is the radical compassion of Jesus in action.
Successive Australian governments have demonstrated a callous disregard for people who came to us seeking asylum and protection. They have imprisoned children and deliberately harmed people and stripped them of hope for the future.
So this evening we sing carols about a radical story of justice because the Government does not act for us; and we believe that we are better than this. Instead of spreading despair we come together to sing hymns of hope: hope for peace, hope for justice, hope for joy, and hope for a radical love that transcends all boundaries and embraces all people without distinction. We sing no songs of santas and reindeers, but songs of the great hope for radical compassionate love that came to the world when Jesus was born.