Every year, over 100,000 children enter the BBC’s 500 word competition. The competition is to write a short story in only 500 words or less. Publishers, Oxford University Press then analyse the content carefully, and each year declare a ‘children’s word of the year’. In 2014, the chosen word was inspired by every maths teachers’ favourite children’s film. Imagine a film where the main villain (or is he really a villain? We never quite know!) has a mathematical name. Not only that! He then describes what his name means. “Vector, that’s me, because I’m committing crimes with both direction and magnitude. Oh Yeah!” For maths teachers, it doesn’t get much better than this. We don’t get to show many Youtube clips, but this is one we all show. The scriptwriter must have had a close relative who was a maths teacher! The 2014 word was ‘minion’ and the inspiration was of course the film, ‘Despicable Me’.
The 2013 word was ‘selfie’ and the 2015 word was ‘hashtag’ #iblameTwitter #andblameteachers why not? With so much inspiration coming from popular culture, last year’s word came as a surprise. The 2016 children’s word of the year was ‘refugee’ and these young authors were overwhelmingly empathetic in their stories. In the same year as Tim Peake and the Rio Olympics, more children wrote about the plight of refugees. Inspiration came from teenagers like Yusra Mardini, who dragged a dinghy full of refugees for 8 hours to safety, and then went on to compete under the Olympic flag as a refugee. If people like Nigel Farage had their way, young people like Yusra wouldn’t be free to tell her story.
How Big is 21 Million?
The numbers are huge. There are currently about 65 million refugees worldwide of which over 21 million are children. I asked one of my Year 8 classes of how long it would take to register 21 million children. The result was sobering. If they started calling out names on their first day at secondary school in Year 7, and spent every lesson of every day just calling out names, they would finish a little before Christmas in Year 13! A whole secondary education just reading the names of children who have had their education taken from them! It’s hard to think of a group of people more powerless and vulnerable than child refugees.
This time of year, Christians celebrate again the coming of ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. When Jesus came, he came as a refugee. At a young age his family fled the threat of violence and lived as refugees in a foreign land. With all the opulence of Christmas it is easy to forget the extreme poverty of the nativity.
In the Shadow of Herod, One More Refugee
Close to Bethlehem, there is a hill that is the highest for miles around. It’s artificial. King Herod, as a symbol of his power, had it constructed. On top he built the most opulent of palaces. He was so powerful, he could move mountains. This palace (the Herodium) was clearly visible from Bethlehem and all the surrounding countryside. Eight miles away, in Jerusalem, Herod had another palace. In terms of worldly power, Herod was a big success story. Born in some backwater of the Roman empire, through ruthless scheming and astute political alliances he was appointed King of the Jews, even though he was not a Jew. To display his power he built amphitheatres and hippodromes, viaducts, towers, palaces, and even a new port city. Somewhere, in the eight miles between his two most impressive palaces, was a dirty animal stable. One more baby without a home, was born. This newborn and his family fled for their lives with nothing. Searching for safety, for refuge – as do all refugees. The contrast couldn’t be greater.
If Jesus was born today, how would it be different? Imagine with today’s telecommunication how quickly the word could spread. The world would know immediately that the Emmanuel had arrived. #theangelscoulduseTwitter, #SnapChatfollowthestar, #Instagramgold, #FacebookMessengerthemagi! Today we could stage his birth in a decent setting, one better suited for the King of Kings than a dirty stable. But actually I don’t think it would be that different. If born today, Jesus would more likely be born in a cardboard box in a doorway somewhere between Trump Tower and Bloomingdale’s, or in a bombed out shelter in Aleppo, or in a UNHCR tent on the edge of a huge camp in the Jordanian desert.
Now, as much as then, the Nativity tells us that God is not interested in human power and influence, but instead the King of Kings associates himself with the poor and marginalised and those in danger. The shepherds were the poorest of the poor, but it was to them that the good news was announced. The Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God experienced humanity at its most vulnerable. The Prince of Peace is not interested in position or prestige. The Everlasting Father longs for our intimacy. The King of Kings was a refugee.