Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve, 7 pm

Isaiah 9
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Since I have no idea what plague this Sunday will bring—snow, ice, frogs—I thought I should get a jump on the year in review.

For this, we turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, and their ‘word of the year’ announcement: a linguistic moment-in-time that reveals which new words we used more frequently this year and how we used them. They say they’re tracking the 150 million words we commonly use (if you have a good vocabulary) and bless a handful each year as new and noteworthy.

Before I get to the winner, you can only truly understand 2013 if you look at the runner-up words as well: binge-watch, watching every episode of a program back-to-back via the internet; bitcoin, a new form of digital currency; schmeat, hamburger grown in a lab; twerk, something related to moving ones posterior, and showrooming, checking something out in store before buying it online. All fine words, and no doubt worthy of an entry in the OED, except maybe twerk.

And the winner—the most noteworthy word of 2013—is ‘selfie.’ What’s a selfie? The Oxford definition says “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” You know, a selfie. Barack Obama took a few with Prime Minister of Denmark recently, and one newspaper described this as the best sign yet of the fall of western civilization. And teenagers seem to have embraced the selfie as a favourite form of self-expression, something that further adds the decline and fall theorists.

But is it really so bad? If the Man of the Year (Pope Francis) popped in this evening to say ‘hello,’ I confess I would be the first to employ the word of the year (selfie) to mark the occasion. It says ‘hey look at me,’ but not always in the worst possible way. It can also be ‘hey look at me visiting somewhere important; or ‘hey look at me doing some noteworthy thing’ or ‘hey look at me, I’m with someone famous’ and I want to mark the occasion.

It occurred to me when the OED first noted that use of the word selfie was up 17,000% in 2013, that this may be the sign of the new age—not the end of the world—but a new age. BIMD (back in my day) kids tended to appear in groups, because there were so many of us, and because parents banished us from their presence for long stretches of time and said ‘go see your friends and leave us alone.’ Photos from the time show big groups of kids, all long-haired and awkward, with ne’ery a grown-up to be seen.

Now, there is more solitude. Kids come in single-packs, or pairs, and the pictures are self-taken, or selfies: more a product of loneliness and the need to express the idea that even without being surrounded by a big group of peers, I still exist.

If we extend this our present occasion, we might say Christmas is God’s first selfie, and like this modern age we inhabit, it relates to solitude. For you see, the most compelling argument I have heard for God’s incarnation—God desire to be with us in a new way—is based on loneliness.

God made the heavens and the earth, and all that inhabits the earth, sea creatures and those on land. But God felt alone in the universe, no doubt entertained by creating the first version of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but still alone. And so, God made us: to fill the earth, and have dominion over the creatures of land and sky and sea—and God was much less alone.

In time, and through much trial and error, God began to understand this leading creature, and the consequence of making the first law of humanity a little troublesome thing called free will. People were disobedient, and willful in their treatment of God and others: which seems a very natural consequence of something as profound as free will.

God began to tinker around the edges. Smoting here and chiding there, flood the earth, don’t flood the earth, liberate a people, give ten laws, anoint some kings, trouble them with prophets, send everyone in exile—or at least the ones that mattered—and lead them back again. Help them rediscover the Bible, send more prophets, and sit back to reflect on the experience so far.

And then something changed: God began to realize that watching from above was different than standing arm-in-arm, and that being entertained or disgusted by humans is not the same as understanding humans. It occurred to God to have a much more intimate sense of human living would be required if God was ever going to feel complete—if God was ever going to be reconciled to this creature at the head of the stage.

So it happened: God decided to enter our world, to come as one of us, to begin small and insignificant in the world’s eyes, only to grow into the visible image of an invisible God (Col 1). God chose to stand beside us, not over us, and marvel at the extent to which we are created in the image of God. It called for a selfie, and Christmas was just the first occasion where God stood with us to have a picture. The first was a humble one, taken in the dim love-light of a stable, few to see but all to adore. And more came in time, but this was the first, and the most unique, a self-portrait to begin a long journey together.

May we stand and smile as God draws us close. May we feel the warmth of God’s embrace, and may we find in this season the hope that is ours to claim. Amen.


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