No doubt, many of you have already seen this video. After all, it is four years old, and it has over 12 million views on YouTube. I saw it for the very first time right now, however, and I find it fascinating. It is a retelling of the birth of Jesus had social media tools we now take for granted been available. The video is well worth a watch even if you have seen it before. It is amusing to see Mary receive an instant message from the Angel Gabriel and then use Google Maps to find the best route to Bethlehem, and to watch the three wise men purchase their gifts for Jesus on Amazon and check in at the manger on Foursquare. I think this is a very clever depiction of how the Nativity would have been different if communication were as easy and ubiquitous as it is today.
There are a number of things that strike me about this. What if communication back then had been this easy? It surely wouldn’t have taken forty years for the first Gospel to be written. In fact, there probably wouldn’t have been only four Gospels, because everyone would have had their own account of what happened, and word would have spread far and wide with lots of instant interpretations and speculation and embellishments as it did. Would Jesus’ birth by the Virgin Mary have been easier to confirm or more difficult to believe with everybody in Judea and Galilee having instant access to the news and a platform for broadcasting their opinion about it? Certainly, Jesus’ safety would have been compromised, because the Romans surely would have come to know about him and his whereabouts and the hype surrounding his birth almost as soon as it happened, and they would have sent soldiers to confront Mary and Joseph and take the child. There would be no hiding from the authorities once social media carried the story. Furthermore, the established Jewish religious leaders would have gotten wind of the threat Jesus posed right from the beginning. They would have read the instant claims that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophecy, the new Covenant, and they would have had plenty of opportunity to denounce such talk as hype and heresy. There would be endless blogging and tweeting and controversial posts on Facebook that would lead people to block or even “unfriend” each other and to clamor incessantly for a “Dislike” button to be added.
Indeed, social media would have made the birth of Jesus far less peaceful than the Christmas account we celebrate today. Would Jesus even have had an opportunity to start his public ministry, to perform the miracles and preach the parables the Gospels recount? Or would his actions and lessons have been drowned out by the noise of instant opinion, interpretation, and hype? Of course, all things are possible with God, but surely it would have been much more difficult for the message of Jesus to strike a distinctive chord in such an environment. It is reasonable to speculate that holiness might have succumbed to hollowness.
We see the same thing play out today, don’t we? We humans have a fundamental need to connect with each other, to hear and be heard, and to share our thoughts, aspirations, and fears. That’s healthy. We also love to gossip, out-shout, label, dismiss, and corner. That’s unhealthy. Social media supports all those desires with unprecedented ease, and we don’t really know what long-term price we are paying for that ease. Do we seek salvation in the wrong places and follow the wrong stars? I’m not qualified to say for sure, of course. None of us are. But the long-term impact of our constant connectedness does worry me, and it is something we should start considering more as we continue to build our lives around these tools.
Worry can wait for another day, however, because it’s Christmas, a time for peace and reflection and joy. It is such a special day precisely because it was an idea that had the time and space to connect with our identity as human beings in search of deeper meaning. May we look for ways to give other life-changing notions similar space to develop in this cacophonous world of instant sharing. I offer you a humble, quiet, and clear “Merry Christmas”.