Christmas is about the Incarnation, about God being among us on earth in the person of Jesus Christ. And this past Christmas, Pope Francis spoke powerfully about where we can find Christ within the world today. In his “urbi et orbi” (to the city and to the world) message from the balcony of St. Peter’s on Christmas Day, the pope provided a litany of examples:
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. ...
“We see Jesus in the faces of Syrian children still marked by the war that, in these years, has caused such bloodshed in that country. ...
“We see Jesus in the children of Africa, especially those who are suffering in South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Nigeria.
“We see Jesus in the children worldwide wherever peace and security are threatened by the danger of tensions and new conflicts. ...
“We see Jesus in the children of unemployed parents who struggle to offer their children a secure and peaceful future. ...
“We see Jesus in the many children forced to leave their countries to travel alone in inhuman conditions and who become an easy target for human traffickers.”
In his Christmas Eve homily the night before, the pope highlighted how this connection between the marginalized and the Incarnation goes right back to the Gospels — when angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth to shepherds, people who lived and worked on the outskirts of their society; when Mary and Joseph arrived at a place that had no room for them; and when the Child Jesus was later pursued by the bloodthirsty Herod.
“And there, where everything was a challenge, Mary gave us Emmanuel,” the pope noted. “Mary gave birth; she gave us Jesus, the light of the world. A simple story that plunges us into the event that changes our history forever.”
This is the significance of God entering the human story as one on the peripheries — a truth that contains a powerful message for everyone.
To those on the peripheries, the incarnation of the Christ Child in a humble manger setting provides a message of hope. As Pope Francis said on Christmas Eve: “In Bethlehem, a small chink opens up for those who have lost their land, their country, their dreams; even for those overcome by the asphyxia produced by a life of isolation. So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary.”
To everyone else, the circumstances of Jesus’ arrival provides a message that Pope Francis captures through the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!”
Our challenge in this new year is to welcome Jesus Christ into our own lives and to stay focused on him. It’s a commitment that needs to be renewed daily through prayer, the reading of Scripture, participation in the sacraments and by caring for those in need. And in the light of Pope Francis’ words about refugees and other marginalized groups, the call of Pope John Paul II not to fear in our welcoming of Christ resonates all the more profoundly.
And so in 2018, we should open wide the doors to welcome Jesus Christ, the newborn king, into our homes and our hearts, giving praise and thanksgiving for the hope he brings to a troubled world. God still works in history, and we still can welcome and encounter his son through the “least of these” in our midst.
OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young