By Steve DuPlessie | Christmas Eve 2017
So how did you do with this year’s Christmas shopping list? If you’re not sure what to get someone, the safest bet is always technology. Our culture is stuck in a romance with technology.
My wife Deb was doing a Mary Kay event at an Assisted Living home in Smithfield, and an 86 year old resident asked if she could shop Deb’s MK web site from her new iPhoneX. When another 101 year old resident said she couldn’t get on the web with her phone, the 86 year-old offered to set it up for her!
I was in Panera Bread this week, getting some writing done, and watched family after family, couple after couple, come in, sit down, and take out their phones. Moms with kids, all on their phones. Couples on a date, both on their phones. I’m afraid our technology, instead of bringing us closer, is actually encouraging disengagement.
Consider the state of our addiction: In a recent Pew survey of more than 3,000 adults, an overwhelming 89% said they used their phone during their most recent social gathering, including 61% who read a text or email during dinner, 52% who sent a text or received a call during a conversation, and 34% who checked their mobile alerts for updates while talking with friends.
It’s gotten to the point that even the true believers, the tech early adopters, are getting alarmed. Chamath Palihapitiya joined Facebook in year one, but in a presentation to an audience at Stanford University last month, the former FB VP said, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse. … It literally is at a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”
MIT professor Sherry Turkle agrees. In her TED Talk Sherry said, “We are losing our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.”
Ironic how our tech prowess, imagined to bring us together, is actually driving us apart. And that separation, personal and societal, is creating a loneliness that eats at the human spirit.
So close yet so far…
In fact, our time is being called “the age of loneliness.” Seemingly connected, but increasingly very alone.
Pioneering neuroscientist John T. Cacioppo has estimated from his research at the University of Chicago that one in five Americans suffers from persistent loneliness, a condition that significantly raises the risk of a number of physical and psychological health problems like heart disease and depression, increasing the chance of early death by 20%.
But in the middle of all this, the Christmas story is exactly, precisely what we need. The Nativity Story that we just heard is the story of God breaking into our separation and isolation – literally the story of heaven invading earth in the form of a little baby born to a teenage mother in an outback town in the hills of a distant country.
And from that distant place, that tiny baby named Jesus grew up to be the man who reached out to the least, the lost, the last, and the lonely.
Whether it was the woman with a string of broken marriages and no friends at all; a woman Jesus sat down with in a personal one-on-one conversation about her thirst for relationship…
Or whether it was the homeless man, overwhelmed by spiritual and mental torment – living rough in a graveyard of all places – that Jesus reached out to and restored to his right mind, and to his long-estranged family…
Or the two sisters whose brother had just died, lost much too soon to illness; and Jesus met them, wept with them at his gravesite in their deep grief, and comforted them – and then returned their brother to them, healthy and strong, in a very dramatic and very personal picture of His power to restore broken relationships.
Then + now…
And in case those stories from the life of Jesus seem too old or too far-fetched or too culturally distant, let me give you some hope for you today. I’m thinking of Geddy, sitting in a prison cell far from family and loved ones and far, far from God; and Jesus came to him, forgave him, restored him to his family, and to God.
I’m thinking of Joyce, consumed by alcohol that ruined her life, her relationships, and her health; and Jesus came to her, forgave her, restored her body and her mind with new joy and new purpose in loving and serving God.
I’m thinking of Freddy, once a party guy looking only for the next drink, and Jesus came to him, forgave him, and healed him, and healed his broken relationships with his family and with God.
I’m thinking of Kim and Mark, at the edge of marriage disaster, and Jesus came to them and forgave them and restored not only their relationship with each other but their relationship with God as well!
And I could give you dozens more stories from today, not just 2,000 years ago, when Jesus, the baby who came to us in Bethlehem, came to students and women and men, young and old, and met them where they were in their isolation and brokenness, and offered them healing forgiveness, and a redeemed, restored relationship with themselves, with their loved ones, and ultimately with God.
See, our problem at its root, is a deep-seated soul-problem the Bible calls sin; our self-directed independence from God that leads us inexorably to selfishness, harmful choices, and isolating decisions.
And the bible tells us that the penalty of that sin is spiritual death; soul-deep spiritual separation from God, not just now, but for all eternity.
That was the moment of cosmic, eternity-changing engagement … the arrival of the baby in Bethlehem; and then, about 33 years later, the Bethlehem-baby-turned-God-man was arrested, tried, acquitted, and then executed anyway to satisfy an angry mob.
And hanging there on a cross, suspended between heaven and earth with his arms stretched wide, Jesus declared “It is finished!” meaning the judgment of a holy God against all sin had been totally, completely, fully, finally poured out on the innocent Jesus, as He became your substitute, bearing all of your sin and guilt and shame and regret, bearing all the punishment my sin and your sin deserves, paying the price for sin so that you and I can be forgiven, set-free from the penalty and power of sin, and given a new life in a relationship with Him as His loved, adopted, treasured child of God!
Face it, God must love you a lot … since he sent his only Son Jesus from heaven to earth to die for you! The bible says, “This is real love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10).
So this Christmas I have a choice. And you have a choice, a decision actually. The decision to let life keep going the same as it always has been … or the decision to give ask God to forgive you, and give God permission to restore you to a new relationship with Him.
Will you reach out and accept and start enjoying God’s love-filled invitation to relationship? Or will you choose to leave life as it is, and leave his offer of forgiveness and new life on the table? Instead somehow handle your guilt, shame and regret by yourself?
Your choice. Your decision.
If you’ve never done it before, I urge you to tell God in a short and simple prayer that you are sorry for your sin, thank him for sending His son Jesus to die on the cross in your place, accept God’s gift to you of forgiveness, and then ask Jesus to come in and lead your life from this day forward.
Then again, maybe you asked Jesus to forgive you and save you sometime in the past, but you’ve been living far from God. It’s decision time for you, too. Time to come back into the love relationship with God that He designed you for.
Use this prayer time to confess your sin, ask God to forgive you, and ask him to help you live as a deeply loved child of God.