I recently read a fascinating paper by one of my colleagues with the intriguing title “Twitter and the Trinity.” It explored the history of communication among humans from ancient times until now. Within the last ten years, communication has exploded into many different modes that are declared obsolete as soon as parents learn how to use them! Twitter, however, has retained its status as a contemporary method of communication for at least a decade. It is used by politicians such as the President of the United States and celebrities such as Katy Perry, who is the first person to have over 100 million followers.
Interestingly, studies suggest that the efficiency of Twitter has created a sense of societal loneliness. Most people use Twitter to widely disseminate information, but they are communicating with text on a screen instead of with actual human beings. It seems that communication online is not satisfactory and does not take the place of face-to-face conversations. In fact, people who are online almost constantly say that they have fewer close relationships in their lives.
However, whenever something becomes in vogue, there are people who seek to use it in the church. Prominent church leaders began to discuss if Twitter could become an evangelistic tool, and if there could be “Twitter church.” This idea is in its infancy, and it is hailed and criticized at the same time. Some people tell church leaders that they do not need to attend a church because they watch a program on TV, listen to a podcast, or watch their own church service from the comfort of their living room or bedroom.
Contemplating communication via technology versus in-person made me think about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us that God spoke to His people in various forms in the past, but His ultimate speech was spoken to us through His Son, Jesus. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4 that, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son to be born of a woman. Throughout the Old Testament, God communicates in many forms, such as angels, visions, dreams, or what I call theophanies: God appearing in human form. The best example of a theophany is when God and two angels appeared to Abraham. The angels departed for Sodom and Gomorrah, but God stayed with Abraham as he pleaded for the righteous people of the city to be saved.
The Incarnation of the Son of God is fantastic in many ways and puzzling in others. It is difficult to make sense of a heavenly being who became embodied and experienced all the effects of having a body. The ancient church fathers wrote that God became one of us so that we may become like Him. Other theologians are very careful to distinguish that our becoming like God is only in regard to our humanity, for we will never become divine. On the other hand, we have people who have a negative view of our human bodies like the philosopher Socrates, who considered the body the prison of the soul.
Even when we accept that Christ had a human body, we struggle with understanding how He or we can have bodies after death. One of my friends, whose theology can be crass from time to time, said that we come into this world as babies with lots of poop, and many of us unwillingly leave this world with lots of poop. I was rather dismissive of this statement until one of my parishioners mentioned that another pastor told her they did not believe that we will have transformed bodies in heaven, because God could not possibly have a solution for an eternity of poop. This dualistic tendency is prominent among those who think that we will be only spirit in heaven and all the verses about bodies being made new and heavenly feasts are metaphor.
What concerns me pastorally is a statement made by a person who works in a retirement center. They said that the holidays are the most depressing time in these facilities because the people there are alone in a season of togetherness. The Advent Season is the church celebrating God coming among us, yet we distance ourselves from one another. Children and grandchildren tell their parents and grandparents that they want to see them from a distance using new technology, while their grandparents want to see them in-person, in the flesh – to be touched, to be hugged, to even just be told that their hands are cold!
During Advent, we celebrate the God who became incarnate, who came among us to be with us, to share our experiences, to eat with us, and to touch and be touched as an infant held by his mother, as a healer who laid his hands on the sick, and as the savior who held out his nail-pierced hands to his disciples. Is there a possibility that He is telling us to continue identifying with our humanity, not only at a distance through technology, but face-to-face and in-person?