Christmas message from The Bishop of Gloucester, Rt Revd Michael Perham
6:00am Wednesday 25th December 2013 in News
ONE homeless child at Christmas is a tragedy. 80,000 of them is a disgrace.
That’s the headline of the Christmas campaign by Shelter, the homelessness charity. I was puzzled by the 80,000.
Clearly too small a figure to be a world-wide statistic, but surely too great to be the UK alone, I thought.
But, no, 80,000 is the figure for Britain and last year it was 75,000, so the situation is deteriorating.
‘Homeless’ in this context doesn’t often mean no roof over their head, but it does more often than not mean emergency housing in bed and breakfasts.
Shelter tells how almost half of the families they interviewed reported children witnessing disturbing incidents, including open drug use and threats of violence.
The Christmas story that we retell each year is, of course, about a homeless family. Again they did have a roof over their head, but it was a stable with straw in a manger for a bed, in reality a wretched place for a child to be, let alone a place for a mother to bring her child to birth.
Of course the story did not stop at the stable scene.
Later comes the massacre of the innocent children by the tyrant King Herod, from which Joseph, Mary and Jesus escape only by flight into Egypt.
The homeless family become the refugees in a foreign land.
80,000 homeless children in Britain is indeed a disgrace, but the hundreds of thousands of refugee children, fleeing from Syria and other countries, is more disgraceful still. There is one sense in which the Shelter campaign could be said to have got it wrong.
The point of the Christmas story is that, in one unique case, one homeless child at Christmas was not a tragedy, but tidings of comfort and joy.
It was a revelation of the love of God and the beginning of a life that brought rescue to a broken world.
But it challenges us to work, with the God who loves the world so much that he sent Jesus, to reduce that figure of 80,000 and, if necessary, to open our borders more readily to refugees.
There needs to be tidings of comfort and joy for them too.
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