Are you paying attention?

It might be one of the most important questions that Christmas asks us every year. And after a year like 2020, with hopes of an almost ‘normal’ Christmas around the corner, we could be forgiven for allowing summer holidays, family celebrations and the re-opening of shops and restaurants to distract us from global issues.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with holidays and celebrations but lately, I’ve been thinking about how the Christmas story reminds us of what happens when we pay attention.

Wind back two thousand years when the people of Israel – chosen as the focus of God’s love as well as vessels to reflect his light to the nations – found themselves living in the darkness and tumult of Roman occupation.

Yet in a back corner of ancient Palestine, in the midst of a broken world, God found a teenage girl living in poverty. He “looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant” and Mary’s powerful song of praise in Luke 1 calls us to rejoice with her at a God who visits his people.  In the next chapter, too, we learn of the gift of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us, the very presence of God, Incarnate.

The Christmas story – indeed all of scripture – reminds us that God pays attention to the people, places and situations often overlooked. Yet it also reflects the responses of a diverse cast of characters – innkeepers, shepherds, wise men and evil kings. Some pay attention to this remarkable new way God enters the world, others seem distracted, a few are more focussed on protecting their power and privilege.

Where do we need to pay attention?

One of the projects that’s held a lot of my attention this year is the research for Baptist World Aid’s latest Ethical Fashion Report. It’s a special edition because it’s been a challenging year. And it’s shown me how much COVID has affected garment workers—those making the clothes we might buy for Christmas—and how fashion brands have (or haven’t) responded to the challenges workers faced.

As I’ve read stories and statistics (more than 1 million Bangladeshi garment workers lost their jobs within weeks of the pandemic, and 1 in 3 say the pandemic meant they couldn’t feed their children) I can’t help but wonder whether this reality is what we need to pay more attention to this Christmas.

After all, celebrating Christmas in Australia can make us frantic, driving us to consume ever more. Our response, though, shouldn’t be flat out rejection of the commercialism, but rather attention. We shift our attention to how our decisions and actions this Christmas impact on people and on this planet God has given us.

Before buying even the simplest t-shirt, for instance, let’s think first about the number of people connected to that shirt: someone planted the cotton, someone else harvested it, another spun it into yarn before someone else wove it into fabric. Then someone dyed it, cut it, sewed it, you get the idea.  An estimated 100 people had a hand in making and transporting the clothes you’re planning to get for a Christmas gift.

I know it isn’t easy paying attention in a world that moves so fast, where our connections reach so far throughout the world. BWA’s Ethical Fashion Guide, though, makes it a little easier to pay attention to our global neighbours.

This Christmas we won’t get it perfect—especially after such a challenging year. But the Christmas story reminds us that we don’t need to. We can, though, remember how God’s attention to us still breaks into our world to bring hope, how even our smallest actions bring about transformation. If we’ll just pay attention.