The Christmas story is steeped in irony. The shepherds who work on the edges of the city move to the centre of the world when they become the recipients of the angelic message. The Magi seeking a King are sent to see a newborn baby. The vulnerable child is in fact the Lord of the universe.
In the familiar words of Christina Georgina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter,
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign.
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
The Christmas edition of the JRS LINK newsletter contains stories of welcome: the city of Parramatta, where the JRS centre, Arrupe Place, is based, becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone; indigenous people welcoming people who seek asylum; and the welcome that Arrupe Place continues to provide to those who are in need of comfort and friendship.
That notion of welcome is one of the greatest ironies of the Christmas story. The child born at Christmas receives hospitality from the world, and finds a home in it; but in fact it is that child who offers the world hospitality, and who welcomes all of us into his eternal home. The guest is in reality the true host, the One who has made all things, and will gather all things to Himself.
We have forgotten this central fact: that we all share, in the words of Pope Francis, a common home, one that is given to us as pure gift, not ours by ownership or by right. The great irony about the so-called migration and refugee crisis is that it is not about that at all. What the world is facing is a crisis of solidarity: an inability or an unwillingness to share the home that we have been given, and to risk the largesse of the hospitality that we enjoy.
It is ironic that at the end of the year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, Australia has demonstrated by its treatment of people seeking asylum what it means to lack mercy. Instead of celebrating the Prince of Peace, we have allowed ourselves to be ensnared by the Prince of Lies, and all his works, and all his empty promises: border security, resettlement as our only obligation, stopping illegal arrivals, and so on.
Scrooge was haunted in A Christmas Carol by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. This Christmas I pray that we also will all be haunted: by every child whom we have turned away from Australia; by every family that we sent to Nauru; by every young man who has seen hope and life seep slowly away while confined to Manus Island.
The Prologue to John’s Gospel tells us that the Word was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. That does not make for a comforting Christmas message, but perhaps there is little this Christmas for us to be comfortable about.
Aloysious Mowe SJ