This year has been devastating for many people across Australia. The loss of homes, land and lives during the ‘black summer’ bushfires. The loss of jobs, of the freedoms we had taken for granted and loved ones from COVID-19.
And whilst we have been physically apart from each other, there has been a growing awareness that we need each other, that we belong together and that our lives and our wellbeing as communities is inextricably bound to one another. Our choices and actions affect not only our immediate families, but our workmates, our neighbours, our cities and our society as a whole. We recognise that the lowest paid people in our economy are essential to its functioning.
The pandemic has highlighted the potential inequities that persist in our so-called ‘lucky country’.
And we must face the reality that well over 100,000 Australians still experience homelessness each night. Domestic and family violence is on the rise, prevalent in our neighbourhoods, where one woman is killed every nine days by her partner. Where gambling losses are higher per capita than any other country in the world and we encourage more poker machines into our suburbs. Poor treatment is ever present in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and is a key determinant of health, leading to poorer outcomes which cannot be tolerated.
This year, as a Christian organisation, Wesley Mission commissioned research into the mental health and wellbeing of Australians which showed that 3 in 4 of us have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the same study also demonstrated the strength of our Aussie Spirit, with more than 3 in 5 of us having either contacting or being contacted by family and friends to make sure that we’re ok. 1 in 5 have purchased groceries for someone else, whether family or neighbours in need.
But just as our actions can have negative consequences for those around us, we have the power and opportunity to choose to make a difference. This sits comfortably with a faithful understanding of Christmas.
So as promising vaccines may bring ‘the beginning of the end’ of the pandemic, this Christmas, let’s commit as Australians; to supporting those hardest hit this year, as they will be experiencing the pain of the pandemic for far longer. To reach out to our families, friends, neighbours and the community around us, knowing that the connections we build are protective factors against poor mental health. To raising our voices, to volunteering our time to address the issues that matter and to take simple actions like dropping off groceries, making a phone call or sending a text message.
The first Christmas, we remind ourselves, was simple. Jesus Christ was born into the everyday routines of a Middle Eastern family. And through his coming, extraordinary hope is offered to our lives. A hope that cannot be extinguished, even in the most devastating circumstances.
Let us offer this hope to one another this Christmas and in the year that lies ahead. Through simple actions, we can make a powerful difference to the lives of those around us. And the message of Jesus Christ is for Australia today.
Rev Keith V Garner AM, CEO of Wesley Mission