Christians need to look beyond individualism this holiday season

REUTERS Choristers from St. Paul’s Cathedral School sing Christmas carols during a photo call inside the Cathedral in central London … Continued


Choristers from St. Paul’s Cathedral School sing Christmas carols during a photo call inside the Cathedral in central London on Dec. 10, 2012.

I read the following recently in a Fortune magazine article about deep data and the transition we are experiencing as the global community with respect to information. The little block of text began: “THE WORLD WE HAVE MADE IS ONE THAT CAN BE MEASURED.” To quote the paragraph that followed:

“A heartbeat, a child’s first word, a photograph, a phone call, a Facebook update – all drops in a vast ocean of data. “Big” data, then, is something of a misnomer. It’s colossal. From the beginning of recorded time until 2003, we created 5 billion gigabytes of data. In 2011 the same amount was created every two days. By 2013 that time will shrink to 10 minutes. So what are we learning from it all?”

Almost squarely in the center of the spectrum from the almost nothing, a quantum particle, to the magnitude of a monster solar system, stands the human being, lost in their thoughts, self-doubt, struggling with believing they have any significance, purpose or value, incarnated in a physical dimension that is deteriorating and collapsing, looking for meaning in short bursts of intention and yet surprised by unexpected joy and longing. We meander and stumble through the ordinary with the sense that certain things, ideas, persons, actually matter. This pervades our daily existence even while we look in the mirror and see a question mark rather than an exclamation point.

In the midst of all this information and technology we feel the angst of disconnectedness, a brooding isolation. Time itself seems to be infused by steroids and caffeine, the speed of disintegration increasing as we race toward the next big thing or simply the survival of the immediate. We are terrified to commit because we might miss out on something that would grant to us the settled contentment that hovers like a chimera just beyond our reach and vision.

Nietzsche might suggest that many of us have unhinged ourselves from our Sun (God) and we now wander aimlessly through empty and dark space in search of a new sun to orbit our lives around. Where do we look? I would like to suggest that one direction is at the heart of the Christmas story and embedded in the soul of the Christmas season but not in the way you might think is obvious.

For many of us who come from a “Christian” tradition and history, this season is a focus on an individual; the Christ child, the babe in the manger, the coming King, the Messiah. We approach our own faith journeys and develop theologies that promote our individualism and resulting isolation. It seems that the more we try and understand our beliefs inside a ‘legal’ model, the more we hide our failures, secrets, addictions, dreams and hopes.

We forget that every layer and facet of the Christmas story is communal and relational, not individual, transaction and legal. If technology was necessary for the coming of God inside humanity the purpose of God would have waited.

It begins with the dance of Three Persons, who are intertwined in absolute Oneness whose very nature of self-giving, other-centered love inherently prompted the sharing of that love. The determination of this relational God was to open up the circle of this life and love, this choreography that made room for the “other” and within the uncreated, created an “other” to include.

But that wasn’t enough. The Three who are One open up a conversation and relationship with a very young teenage girl and then submit to her decision, “Mary, this is what we would like to do. Would that be alright with you?” And then they wait. They wait for her response, deeply respecting her ability to participate.

“Be it done unto me,” shatters the known cosmos, changing forever the direction and relationship of God and creation, and it is all expanding from a nexus of relationship and community. A God who has never been alone, and never done anything in isolation from relationship, who has created human beings in the image and likeness of that community, now penetrates into the deepest and most holy of relational interactions. God submits to a teenage girl and Jesus enters into our humanity, not with pomp and fanfare, not arriving by stork or spaceship or flaming chariot, but in the blood and water of relationship, by birth, complete with tears and sobs and labor and pain, and the joy of a first cry, and the first poop and a community unseen, the angels, and seen, the shepherds, begin to gather to look into the face of a tiny helpless baby, the residence of hope. It is a beautiful mess!

Relationship and community, the crucible of transformation, is both the crux and the heart of everything that has meaning. This season, may we all celebrate the need and longing to belong, as right and significant and holy! Let us together take the risks of relationship, extend kindness to the stranger, forgive the accuser and perpetrator, enter more deeply the blood and water at the center of life!

William Paul Young is the New York Times best-selling author of “The Shack” and “Cross Roads,” which was published in November.

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