Who cares if the fish never swam?

I love the city where I live, but aspects of it make me angry. Last weekend someone was stabbed on my street, addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling is rife and poor housing is a cause of misery for many. So, when it comes to Christmas-time, there’s a temptation to get carried away with all the trappings and put off thinking about the darker stuff until January. But to do so, denies the power of Christmas. This morning’s thought started with the work of documentary photographer, Kirsty Mackay. You can listen again here, at 01:23:00 or scroll down to read for yourself:

Good morning.

Documentary photographer Kirsty Mackay produces portraits that challenge and provoke thought. Her latest project, The Fish That Never Swam, which this week won a major award, examines the so-called Glasgow Effect, the term used to describe the poor health and low life expectancy that prevail in the city. Her portraits are starkly observed glimpses into the lives of her subjects, and for me, they communicate a dignity and beauty that speaks of how she views the people of her native city.

At this time of year every Christmas advert, song and movie places an unrealistic expectation of cosy perfection, family harmony and fun that few of us can ever hope to experience. For many, the Christmas Effect is one of increased debt, family fights and the gnawing feeling that other people are having a much better time that we are. And for some, Christmas brings the painful recollection of loved ones no longer present, and any sense of disconnection or isolation can feel heightened.

In denying the reality of how life really is, we deny the power of the first Christmas. The real beauty of Christmas was the miracle of incarnation and identification. God chose to put aside the glory of heaven and be born in poverty at a time of political upheaval to a family who would shortly become refugees. Not the best start in life, but a promise of hope placed in a manger in a back shed, and a tangible sign of God’s love for the world.

What artists like Kirsty Mackay do is draw our attention to the reality of life on our own doorsteps, whilst at the same time helping us see the beauty in our fellow human beings. What Jesus did at Christmas, was to demonstrate the love of God for anyone who recognises their need for hope and light in times of despair and darkness.

Rather than ignore the reality of poverty, injustice and pain this Christmas, we can choose to look for the beauty and dignity of our fellow human beings. Perhaps that’s simply smiling at someone in the supermarket queue, or it’s making space for an extra person at our table. Small actions that push back the darkness and make space for hope.