December 2012

Technology and the Christmas story

From the idyllic scenes depicted in “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night”, twenty-first century technology has deleted the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the star, the kings and their gifts, writes Monica Dutton.

BY Monica Dutton

I received my first Christmas e-card last week. This surprised me on two counts. First, that anyone would be organised enough to send Christmas cards in the first week of December; and second, that sharing the peace and goodwill of the Christmas season had been reduced to the single click of a mouse!

Rapid advances in technology and easy access to instant worldwide communication devices have undoubtedly changed the way we live, and certainly the way we celebrate Christmas. December 2012 marks 20 years since the first text message was sent. What was the message? Merry Christmas! It is predicted Australians will spend $32 billion on Christmas this year; $5.4 billion was spent in the first week of December alone, with $767 million of this being spent online, according to The Australian. Fortunately, our i-friend Mr Apple has come to the rescue with a range of apps to assist harried shoppers keep track of their Christmas spending!

After opening my super high-tech online Christmas greeting, I decided to investigate a few Christmas e-card sites myself – only to find them totally uncluttered by anything resembling the traditional symbols we associate with the Christmas story. Not a manger, shepherd, angel or wise man to be seen – not to mention Mary, Joseph or any sign of a baby. This started me thinking. With the addition of technology to the Christmas story, the traditional nativity scene we are so familiar with, would look very different…

If Joseph had booked ahead on Wotif for example, he could have viewed all available accommodation in the little town of Bethlehem online. He may even have been able to get an upgrade, or at the very least, a last-minute red hot deal (click – delete manger). He could have simply texted the news of the baby’s arrival to the shepherds watching their flocks by night (click – delete shepherds), and then uploaded photos of the newborn king from his iPad to the Holy Family Facebook page (click – delete herald angels). There would have been thousands of ‘likes’ posted before the Star in the East had faded into the dawning of that first Christmas morn.

The three kings of Orient, bearing gifts and traversing afar, would have been able to navigate field and fountain, moor and mountain with much less difficulty had they had the assistance of a GPS (click – delete star of wonder, star of night). By the time they finally made it to Bethlehem, Mary, like most 14-year-olds, would have been so busy blogging and tweeting her friends back home in Nazareth, she would hardly have noticed their arrival (click – delete three aforementioned kings). Also, by today’s standards, their said wisdom may have been called into question with regard to gift selection. They almost certainly would have been bearing gifts a little more appropriate for a young mother and her newborn baby if they had looked on eBay before they left the Orient! (click – delete gold, frankincense and myrrh).

From the idyllic scenes depicted in “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night”, twenty-first century technology has deleted the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the star, the kings and their gifts. It’s starting to look very much like my e-card! It’s also starting to look very much like my local shopping centre – not even a GPS could locate a nativity scene there (click – delete Christmas).

The divide between the sacred and the secular is never more apparent than at Christmas time. Messages of “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” are fast replacing “Joy to the World” and “Peace on Earth”. The Christmas story has been diluted, sanitised and fashioned into a politically correct, broadly acceptable version of itself. The original tells of Jesus coming into the world in a lowly stable – it is messy, untidy and unexpected. The message for us is that Jesus enters our lives today – in all our messiness and untidiness; and often very unexpectedly. The Gospel story is enduring. The message of hope provided by this long ago event is the same reality for us today, while the sanitised, glossed-over version provided by the glitter and glitz of storefront displays and online catalogues is short-lived and meaningless.

The high-speed, high-tech devices we have become so used to and, sadly, so attached to and so dependent upon, often provide messages which are fleeting, transient and hollow. A greeting found on the net and sent with the click of a mouse is usually read briefly and deleted just as quickly with another click by the recipient.

My most treasured Christmas cards are the ones tucked away in the second drawer of my cupboard. The ones, slightly faded now, with crumpled red and white crepe paper glued on to green cardboard cut-out trees, and the pasta angels and bells lovingly adorned with gold spray paint and glitter – the messages inside all painstakingly written by once little hands holding a big red texta. In stark contrast to the e-card, they can never be deleted.

In their purity and simplicity, they hold the heart of the Christmas message – that of faith, hope and love. The coming of Christmas stirs in us a renewal of these gifts – the faith of Mary and Joseph, the hope of the shepherds and kings, the extravagant love of God revealed in the incarnation of Jesus.

We need to rediscover all the significant elements of the nativity scene and take the time to let them settle peacefully in our hearts, minds and spirits. We need to restore them to their central place in our preparation and celebration of Christmas 2012 (click – undo delete Christmas)!

Monica Dutton

Monica Dutton has a background in education and has been working with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan for more than 20 years. She currently holds the position of Spirituality and Mission Animation Leader for the Congregation.

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