Today, thousands of volunteers are delivering Christmas hampers around Australia.
They are climbing the stairs to lonely bed-sits or stumbling along broken paths to overcrowded houses. The families they visit are living on the edge - a metaphor I hear often.
Why “the edge”, one might ask? The families provide the answer: “Because you feel like you’re out of sight and out of mind. It’s where you feel like you’re going to fall through or fall off. It’s like there’s nothing firm beneath you. It’s like hanging for dear life to the side of a mountain, with the rocks crumbling beneath your feet.”
Life on the edge is as hard as the edge itself is soft. You’ve just been evicted because your rent has increased and now gobbles up over 40 per cent of your disposable income. You’ve just been told that your job no longer exists but that you can go on a contract. It’s 40 degrees, and the fridge has just died - you have no money, but you do have two hungry children. You’ve just been breached by Centrelink. These are the stories of the forgotten people, the blamed people. Over and over, though, we are told: “They have brought it on themselves.”
It’s time to move away from the politics of blame. It’s time for a politics of hope.
The spirit of hope is central to the Christmas story. A family is at risk of the ground giving way beneath them. With the young woman, Mary, pregnant, they must go to a strange city, and can find only humble housing on the edge of the city. The newborn child of this vulnerable family is incredibly revered as the Anointed One. Shepherds, a despised and reviled class of people in that society, are among the first to recognise him.
The Christmas story is a whisper from the edge that another kind of world is possible; a world where everything is turned upside-down.
For the Vinnies members delivering Christmas hampers, this revolution in the order of things would mean something very concrete. The people on the edge would come first, rather than last. Their housing would be a matter of priority, not a matter of luck. Their household income, whether it came from paid work, the social security system, or a combination of both, would be adequate and would not be tied to the strings of punishment and coercion. The doors would be opened to education and training. Healthcare would be a right rather than a commodity.
Most importantly, they would not be reviled and demonised. They would not be blamed for having been pushed to the edge.
The Christmas story moves the edge into the centre. It turns people on the margins into people at the heart. “He has filled the starving with good things; sent the rich away empty” sings Mary, the courageous young mother in this story.
The stories the Vinnies members hear are filled with the sadness, the courage and the hope that are the marks of our humanity.
“You’re wonderful. You’re beautiful,” a young woman sings, clapping her hands as she is given a Christmas hamper. Her sense of gratitude shows: “I thought maybe you could sell these things in your shop”, she explains as she hands one of our volunteers a bag of odds and ends that she has painstakingly put together from her meagre belongings.
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