One of my concerns about our world is the loss of privacy. Under the guise of mobile applications designed to make our lives better, healthier, and our lifestyles more efficient; we give more away than we should. It’s not that I don’t believe in sharing. In our desire to be open, we forget that what we share won’t always be used in our best interests. Statistics about how much we eat, drink, and sleep may soon influence our ability to purchase health insurance. I’d bet someone at Fitbit or Garmin is already talking to Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
There are also those private moments, especially those in those lives of others, which I do not want to view. In the Soviet Union, East Germany, and other Communist countries, neighbors regularly went through each other’s trash. With common digital platforms like Facebook, I can foresee a time when our rubbish becomes common knowledge; broadcast to the world the web enabled trash cans. Wouldn’t we all like to know how we’re doing with recycling and gain “green leaf” points against our neighbors? People love contests on Facebook. Perhaps to save on property taxes? Is this a dystopian reality or the next TED Talk in Silicon Valley? Maybe it is both/and. It is now and we don’t even know it.
Salvation, as has been offered to us, is a simple action delivered by a succession of algorithms. Click here to save all. You may find your place in the world with the touch of button. A caring voice is only a call away, providing the subscription service is paid. Everything will be seen and all will be saved. Click here. Agree to these terms and conditions. This is simply how it is. We give up everything to receive the intangible benefit of nothing.
Are we to this point, where can click “save all” for salvation, the religious and spiritual equivalent of just “checking in” at the manger? It’s done from the comfort of our device; we can watch Jesus be born, someone else’s intimate moment, and feel like we were part of the action. Because this is simply how it is? Yes, this is how it is. This is where we are.
I find it difficult to enjoy nativity scenes. I say this because they represent the most intimate and personal moments any family can have. I feel like an interloper, an uninvited guest to an already crowded and awkward occasion. I shouldn’t be there. These people; the mother, child, and father need their time alone. Gawking at a teenage mother in a makeshift stable seems strange to me. It is, as if, someone made the decision to give their privacy away, click “yes” to the terms and conditions, and allow the world to view this moment through the webcam of eternity. I’d like that moment back.
Jesus’ birth doesn’t become more real by witnessing adults in costumes or children in bathrobes make a mishmash out of history and scripture a few nights a year. Nativity scenes aren’t real. They’ re filtered through our imagination and expectations of what the event should look like. The star should be centered over the manger. The kings should be symmetrical with the number of shepherds. There should be order, proportion, color coordination, and balance. Welcome to the “Nativity App”, an algorithm, designed to get the same answer, the right result, each year.
Nativity scenes send a subtle message: Jesus is predictable, containable, and easily put away from year to year. In most nativity scenes, Jesus is hidden beneath the swaddling clothes. Jesus is an unseen extra in his life story. We remove him when we need him, like some sacred charm and then replace him when our fortunes change in the new year.
Unwrap the swaddling clothes and take Jesus from the manger. Kidnap him if you must. Jesus doesn’t belong to the prop department! Let us stop showing Jesus as the world finds him acceptable to be seen. Release Jesus from his Nativity scene captivity. It is a hard, hard world he’s come into. There’s work to be done. The real Jesus is not a display model. The one we have is the same Jesus who tells parables, heals, and brings the Kingdom of God to bear. It’s time to accompany Jesus (who’s not “ours” or “my” or “your” Jesus but simply Jesus) and live the incarnation in places where the light of the nativity is rarely, if ever, seen.