TIME magazine just announced its annual Person of the Year to be Elon Musk, which sparked outrage. Musk, as head of Tesla, is one of the billionaires in the last year who, in large part because they don’t pay taxes, has invested in sending himself into space. The discourse around his award as Person of the Year is, “Should we really be celebrating such narcissism?”
But TIME has long held that their award isn’t necessarily a positive thing. Person of the Year is more about who is shaping history – good or bad. It’s a concrete embodiment of the Great Man of History theory.
You’ve heard of the ‘Great Man of History’ theory even if you don’t think you have. It’s the idea that history is made by a few exceptional, powerful people who rise up and seize the reins of the human story. So we learn about Alexander the Great and Napoleon and Lincoln and Dr. King, and we’re taught they’re great. They’re exceptional. The reason they were able to accomplish what they did is because there was something special about them.
The Great Man of History theory sounds good. It even feels good because it feels like hope. That’s why every election year, we look for a candidate to embody all our hopes and dreams. We feel powerless. We don’t feel great by any measure. So we look for someone great to come along and fix things for us.
There’s something of the Great Man theory in the Christmas story, too. After all, what is Jesus if not the Greatest Man?
But as we’ll see today, Jesus doesn’t really qualify as a Great Man. He definitely wouldn’t have made the cover of TIME magazine when he was alive. And that matters. Because the revolution of the Christmas story is not that Jesus was a Great Man… but that God doesn’t need Great Men. God works through the small, the overlooked, the powerless and the ignored.