Compassion Fade

I came across a new phrase today: “Compassion fade”.

It is a term for the phenomenon in which people’s compassion diminishes in proportion to the size or complexity of the problem.

For example, people will more likely give to help a local resident whose home has been lost to a fire than to people dying of a pandemic in another part of the world. It is easier to compassionately support a person whose loved one has died than to confront genocide.

It may be that this is because the reward of our compassionate involvement is more immediate with something close to home. It may be that the larger problems feel too daunting and hate-filled atrocities are too ugly to look at. It may also be that we stand in need of a leap in consciousness evolution. That is, our minds, hearts, and mentalities remain ill-equipped to deal with things too far beyond ourselves.

Enter the Holy Family.

The Children’s Sermon series this Advent is focusing on the importance of Nativity Scenes and the characters in them. Specifically, the universality of God’s coming to all people regardless of race or culture as expressed in the Holy Family.

There is an added benefit to Nativity Scenes that I believe can help us combat Compassion Fade. They can assist in our spiritual awakening not only to Christmas, but the place and role of God in the world

The message of Christmas is that God wants to save the world—not just you and me and our closest neighbor, but the world. That would be a recipe for Compassion Fade if not for Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Because God is uniquely in them, when we embrace this Holy Family we embrace God and we embrace the world.

Think of it this way: Just as the internet has shrunk the world and caused “our neighbor” to not only be the one living next door but also the one living on the other side of the world, the Holy Family does the same for our spirituality and service. In these simple people, who are the foundations of our faith, there is every rejoicing person, every hurting person, every blessed person and every rejected and included person. When we connect with them, when we love them, we connect with and love everyone.

What follows is a recognition that all of humanity is the Holy Family.

My mantra with the Children’s Sermons is “God looks like what God creates”; meaning that God’s presence is found in the diversity of God’s creation; the many manifestations of humanity. God creates us so we are a reflection of God.

But it can’t stop there. It turns out that everyone is a reflection of God. It turns out that this holy family is a whole lot bigger than we first thought and it includes people who are awesome and people who are downright awful. It includes people we admire and people we despise.

What are we to do with this? We are to approach it all with the same unfading compassion that we feel for Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. We are to listen for God’s direction in our lives and in our church as to how we are called to respond to people an arm’s-length away or a world away and to conflate whatever distance separates us.

We are to remember that the stable in Bethlehem is the world itself.

See you in church,
–Rev. Dominic