Every year Time magazine recognises someone as “Person of the Year”. The recognition isn’t necessarily an honour; it’s given to the person whom Time judges to have been the newsmaker of the year – for good or bad. This year, instead of choosing an individual to recognise as newsmaker of the year, it recognised instead a category of persons, the Silence Breakers, namely, women who have spoken out about having experienced sexual harassment and sexual violence.
Part of the challenge of Christmas is to recognise where Christ is being born in our world today, where 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus we can again visit the stable in Bethlehem, see the newborn child, and have our hearts moved by the power of divine innocence and powerlessness.
For Christmas this year, I suggest we honour refugee children as the “Christ Child of the Year”. They bring as close to the original crib in Bethlehem as we can get within our world today, because for them, as for Jesus 2,000 years ago, there is no room at the inn.
Jesus’s birth, like his death, comes wrapped in paradox: He came as God’s answer to our deepest desire, badly wanted, and yet, both in birth and in death, the outsider. Notice that Jesus is born outside the city and he dies outside the city. That’s no accident. He wasn’t born a “wanted” child and he wasn’t an accepted child. Granted, his mother, Mary, and those with genuine religious hearts wanted him, but the world didn’t, at least not on the terms on which he came, as a powerless child. Had he come as a superstar, powerful, a figure so dominant that knees would automatically bend in his presence, a messiah tailored to our imagination, every inn door would have opened to him, not just at birth but throughout his whole life.
But Christ wasn’t the messiah of our expectations. He came as an infant, powerless, hidden in anonymity, without status, invited, unwanted. And so Thomas Merton describes his birth this way:
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