Once again, we have launched the Churches Homeless Action Christmas Voucher Scheme, and this year are delighted that we are working in partnership with ‘The News’. At a time when we are bombarded by adverts for various shops and products, and the pressure mounts to create that idyllic Christmas, it is good to be reminded of the reality of the Christmas that will face many in our community. For many people they will not have a home of their own to decorate. For many there may not be the funds available to pile presents under the tree, or if there is a pile of presents there will also be a mountain of debt they have created as well. For some there will not be a table full of special food and treats. It is important to remember that those we see sleeping rough on the streets are but the tip of the iceberg of those who will struggle over the coming weeks.
The Voucher scheme is a simple response to this situation. It does not solve the underlying problem, but for a brief moment it reminds all of us of two important things. The first is the common humanity we all share – whatever our state or way of living. The second is that one of the most precious gifts is the freedom to choose for ourselves what we want. Too often those who live on the margins of our society are categorised as ‘a problem’ or ‘them’, and their individual characters and personalities are overlooked. Too often we can seek to be generous by giving them what we no longer want, or what we consider will be ‘good for them’. The Voucher scheme addresses both of these by offering a personal greeting, a recognition of the person, with the Christmas card and by offering the vouchers – so the individuals can choose for themselves what gift they would like.
When I met ‘The News’ journalists to discuss the scheme, one of the questions was ‘Why is the Church promoting this?’ The answer, for me, is that it takes us to the heart of the Christmas story – it helps us to reflect on the Incarnation at the heart of our celebrations. In the birth of Jesus, God is with us. He recognises our humanity and shares fully in it. He himself is born sleeping rough, and soon becomes a refugee seeking safety in Egypt. His birth shows that common humanity we all share is also shared by Him. The gift that he brings to those on the margins, and to all of us, is the reassurance of God with us – and the freedom to choose how we live our lives in response to Him. We are called to find ways of sharing His love and His presence with all we meet. This Christmas I hope all of us will find a way of supporting the scheme and of finding other ways of recognising Christ in ‘the other’ – wherever we encounter them – and share with them that most precious gift.
However you mark the Christmas season, I hope you will have a blessed time, with greetings from all of us in the Ministry Team!