The trendy new Christmas gift this year is the Hipster Nativity set, created by entrepreneurs Corey and Casey Wright. It’s meant to be a humorous take on what the birth of Jesus might have looked like in 2016.
My favorite part of the set is the manger scene itself; Joseph is busy taking a selfie with Mary and the newborn.
I have no doubt that if Jesus were born these days, the shepherds, wise men, innkeeper, and the angels themselves would have pulled out their phones and selfie sticks to get a picture with the newborn king. I can even imagine the captions and hashtags — when there’s no room at the Motel 6; #strangerinthemanger; beautiful baby👏👏💖😇🎄
Selfies are just what we do these days, but it’s a very ancient human impulse, akin to the cave dwellers who scratched pictures on the walls of the cave thousands of years ago. We want to mark the moment; we feel the compulsion to capture our presence at that place and time. It’s our way of saying, “I am here; I matter.”
It’s also a piece of self-propaganda. Selfies are created so we can share the images on social media to let other people know that we were there. Since we were close to something or someone important, we must be important, too; we are one of the privileged few to have actually been there!
I’m amazed at the number of places I’ve been where I’ve seen people taking selfies — in the middle of church, in airports, in the midst of important meetings. Heck, I recall that Syrian refugees getting off plastic boats on the shores of Greece often pulled out their phones to joyously record their relief at arriving safely in Europe!
But we also are smart enough to know that some things are simply too sacred for selfies. We should know that it’s not always appropriate to pull out the phone and take a picture, because the moment is too wonderful, precious, divine.
How many of us would be inclined to whip out our cell phones in the presence of God Almighty? Most religious traditions record that those few people privileged enough to encounter the raw presence of God fell to the ground immediately. Their first thoughts were never to try to capture themoment in a selfie; instead it was to fall prostrate in reverence and awe.
When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne, his first words were, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the Lord!” (Isaiah 6:1-15).
Awe cannot be captured in a photo, nor can God’s fullness be contained in an image. The only appropriate response to a revelation of God is to worship God.
Remember that when the wise men entered the room where Jesus was laying, their first impulse was to kneel down and “pay him homage” (Matthew 2:11). We are not told exactly what the shepherds did when they saw the baby, but we know that they left the manger scene “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20).
This Christmas I encourage you to put down the phone and refrain from taking so many selfies. Instead, pause long enough to enjoy the moments in which you encounter God’s love; soak it in and give God the glory.
I hope to see you sometime on Christmas Eve so that we can worship God together! And please ... NO SELFIES.