I’m dreaming of a green Christmas
There is much joy that can be found in giving and when you think beyond your world of ‘you’, your giving can extend more widely and be even more rewarding. These reflections on Christmas are a timely reminder of our role and place on this earth, and how the decisions we make as individuals can have a positive impact on others.
The gift of giving
Ecological reflections on Christmas often start with the waste.
Food waste, wrapping paper, unwanted presents that end up in landfill or, to make us feel better, in the charity bin. Christmas, like many a festival, is a season of tremendous excess. And that is just the stuff that makes it into our homes – let alone the extra perishable and non-perishable items that must be stocked in the shops so that we can make our choices.
The transformation of Christmas into a commodity fuels consumption and waste, at great cost to the Earth, and excludes those who cannot afford to be part of it.
A different place to start is the concept and practice of giving.
At Christmas, we celebrate the gift of the Christ-child, the incarnation of God in a human life – a life given in love, generosity and compassion for the sake of the world. We, too, give and receive gifts in acknowledgment of this amazing gift from God.
There are many ways in which giving is at work at Christmas-time. The making of gifts for loved ones, the careful preparations for guests, or the volunteer efforts at Christmas activities such as the Exodus Christmas Day Lunch.
The account of Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 reveals the Earth to be God’s gift to humanity. A gift to be used responsibly that needs to be safeguarded and cherished. Humans are also described as God’s gift to the Garden: created to serve and protect it. This divine arrangement of Creation has led to a myriad of relationships of giving and receiving throughout the complex web of life on Earth.
Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book The Giving Tree is a story of the changing relationship between a tree and a human over a lifetime.
As a child, the boy plays in the tree and eats her apples. As he grows into adulthood, he sells her fruit to make money, then uses her wood to build a house and later a boat. Throughout it all, the tree gives graciously.
At the end of the story, after some time has passed, the tree (now a stump) provides a quiet place for the old man to sit and rest.
The Giving Tree provides much food for thought on giving and receiving, on exploitation and taking, and on gratitude.
We find that it generates a lot of deep discussion, and you might like to use it at church during Advent.
You can’t always get what you want…
Ever been annoyed at not getting what you wanted for Christmas? Children and adults alike can be frustrated and disappointed when hopes are dashed on Christmas morning.
But not receiving a particular present is nowhere near as serious as what might have been felt by some who were directly connected with the first Christmas. There were so many expectations for what the arrival of The Messiah would bring, and it can appear as if they weren’t realised.
Ancient priest Zechariah and prophetess Anna didn’t seem to get what they wanted for Christmas. They had wanted the Messiah’s arrival to bring redemption to Israel. To save her from her enemies and free Israel to live without fear (Luke 1:67-2:38). But even after Jesus showed up, the Roman occupation continued. Eventually, capital city Jerusalem was sacked.
The Lord’s angel also didn’t seem to get what he wanted for Christmas. To the shepherds outside Bethlehem, the angel declared peace amongst all whom God favours (Luke 2:14). But what followed the birth of Jesus was not an end to schisms or warfare between God’s people.
Remember John the Baptist? It looks like he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas either. He wanted God’s chosen One, with fire and wrath, to thrash the oppressor and save the righteous. But when Jesus grew up and began his public ministry of teaching and healing, John still had to ask, “Are you really the one we are waiting for?” (Luke 3:7-20, 7:18-20)
Even Jesus’ mother Mary also didn’t seem to get what she wanted for Christmas. Because whatever it is that she did want, it would not have been the torture and butchering of her son (John 19:25). Even in the light of the triumph of Easter, Mary’s Christmas wishes for her son’s life must surely have been vastly different.
What about us? What are our Christmas wishes that we don’t get?
We can jokingly say “world peace” when we are asked what we want for Christmas. Perhaps we make light of such an important hope precisely because, after 2000 years since Jesus came, we don’t expect it anymore.
The first recorded message Jesus delivered in public includes him saying that he was God’s chosen One sent to “preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set free the oppressed” (Luke 4:16-21).
But Jesus went further than that. Not only had he been sent for such tasks, Jesus revealed he had fulfilled it.
While it seemed as if Zechariah, Anna, John, Mary and an angel didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas, Jesus says otherwise. His words point to a spiritual truth being confirmed, providing a deeper dimension to the expectations of all those associated with Jesus. What they wanted for Christmas was fulfilled in Jesus.
Even though the many things he “preached” and “proclaimed” can seem far from a reality, the four gospels reveal Jesus did everything the Messiah was expected to do.
That’s hardly the same story with us, though. Just think about the way that we keep falling short in our our attempts to practically bring about the things that he is recorded as saying in Luke 4:16-21. Especially in the day-to-day interactions that are going on between people, everywhere.
Two thousand years has told us that good news for the poor, on a practical level, requires sacrifice by the rich. In a similar way, release of the captives requires paying a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work.
Sight for the blind requires the opening of our eyes to what’s really going on around us. And, practically, freedom from oppression means an end to the comfortable lifestyles which are built upon oppression, as well as a return of wealth and resources to those people and nations from whom they were stolen.
And not just for humans, but for all creatures impacted by our botched stewardship of God’s creation. Those creatures whose lands have been stolen to feed our greed. Who languish in captivity to provide us with cheap meat and eggs. Who are tormented to test our products. All those creatures of God’s garden, whom we were created to serve and protect. Or all those members of the family whose wealth so many of us squander like prodigal children (Luke 12:33,34).
As we think about what it is we want at Christmas, will it be our return from the “pig pen” to the family? Do we want to reconcile with our “older brother” who has always lived well in the family?
And if that is what we want, how will we go about getting it?
It’s as simple, and hard, as giving God what he wanted for Christmas: “This is my beloved Son, he said: “Listen to him.” (Luke 9:35) God wants us to wholeheartedly following his beloved son. And that’s a gift that keeps on giving. For anyone who has “the words of eternal life” has been provided with the best guidance for blessing and keeping all God has given us in Creation.
All dollars and no sense: Christmas spending
Christmas spending in Australia is about $18 billion per year, including $8 billion on gifts. In comparison, total government spending on health is $155 billion per year, including about $5 billion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Some 20 million Christmas gifts are unwanted and around a third of Christmas food is wasted.
“For it is in giving that we receive”
St Francis of Assisi reminded us in his hymn — Make Me a Channel of your Peace — of the importance of focusing on giving rather than receiving. He echoed Jesus’ call to give to those from whom we expect nothing in return.
It’s a real challenge for some people to avoid the need for generosity to be reciprocated. For others, the challenge is to avoid the obligation to reciprocate; to be open to graciously receiving a gift or even a compliment without feeling the need to give one back.
To what extent does this fear of being in debt to others drive our wasteful giving? Perhaps allowing someone to enact Jesus’ command — to give to us freely — is the great gift we need to develop this year.
Love your enemies
One of the amazing things that Jesus said was to love our enemies. Who else but the Son of God himself has called us to love those that hate us?
As we consider what it means to live rightly in God’s Creation at Christmas, Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies is a lynchpin. As you weigh up all the choices you make this Christmas, ask whether you are just being loving to those that you find it easy to love.
And as you are unwrapping that wisdom from Jesus, take time to consider the many other ethical standards he set for his followers, such as is recorded in Luke 6:27-38.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
“But love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
There are many places online that offer ethical, fair trade and green gifts to give this Christmas. By searching online, you can make a radical difference by stopping poor employment practices. You also can make sure that profits from the gifts actually go to the producers, and that the items you purchase are sustainable and won’t impact the environment.
Fairtrade for a fairer world
Fair trade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices, fair trade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.
Today, more than six million people — farmers, producers, workers and their families — in 70 countries benefit from the unique, independent fair trade system. Fair trade provides farmers and workers in developing countries with a fair price (the ‘Fair Trade Price’) for their produce, helping protect them from damaging fluctuations in world market prices. They also receive an additional sum of money (the ‘Fair Trade Premium’) for investment in social, economic and environmental development in their community, such as educational and medical facilities. Fair trade certification standards also prohibit the use of forced and abusive child labour.
Fair trade delivers a better deal for farmers and producers in the developing world through:
- A fair and stable price for their produce
- Security of long-term contracts
- Investment in local community development
- Improved working conditions
- Environmentally sustainable farming methods
- Support in gaining the knowledge and skills needed to operate successfully in the global economy
For more information about Fair Trade Australia and places you can buy fair trade products, go to the website: www.fairtrade.com.au
A smartphone that’s actually smart and ethical
Smartphones are part of our everyday life, but don’t you wonder how ethical the components in your phone are? Fairphone is a social enterprise that is building a movement for fairer electronics. By making a phone, they’re opening up the supply chain and creating new relationships between people and their products. As a company, they are making a positive impact across the value chain in mining, design, manufacturing and life cycle, while expanding the market for products that put ethical values first.
The phones are constructed from conflict-free tin and tantalum, sourced ethically from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Tin and tantalum are two of the minerals recognised for financing rebel groups in the DRC and surrounding countries.
Fairphone wants to create lasting improvements in working conditions and employee wellbeing and is developing a worker welfare program that provides training and skills development to increase worker representation. It’s also developing a fund to finance projects identified by the workers themselves.
If you have a problem with your smartphone and want it sorted, Fairphone also gives users ownership of every part of their phone – including software. Fairphone believes this increases transparency and gives consumers more choice. They’re striving to open their source code with the developer community and are working with established vendors to offer alternative operating systems.
For more information about Fairphone go to www.fairphone.com
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