In our Christmas letter this year, Becky and I talk about the characters of Christmas, and in what we think is surely a very clever play on the word, we talk about the characters of Christmas – angels, wise men, shepherds, Joseph and Mary – and the character of Christmas – joy and hope and love. And then we talk about the character of our year.
But we also talk about our culture with its character limitations (and that phrase might be taken at least two ways, as well). Facebook status updates are limited to 420 characters (including spaces), most text messages are limited to 160 characters and Twitter tweets to 140.
In order to be considered for a call to a church, a candidate for ordained ministry in our denomination is asked to state the content of his or her faith in 1500 online characters (including punctuation and spaces).
Now, many of you know that, all in all, I kind of like Facebook and find texting a quick and efficient way to communicate certain things – like “I’m running late. Should be there in 10 minutes.” (Or should I say, “L8 c u in 10”?) And maybe it’s not all bad for pastors and soon-to-be pastors to keep it brief.
When God visited us in the gift of his Son, there was no character limitation – not in the message and not in the person of Christ. Paul tells us that in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19) and John reminds us that from Christ’s fullness we have “received grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Jesus, God with us, is God with us fully. He is not a quick and efficient message or a 420-character (spaces included) status update. He is not God’s tweet that is old in five minutes.
In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This is the good news. It is what Charles Wesley had in mind when he penned the words to what may be the best of all the Christmas hymns, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”
The Good News cannot be contained to a set number of characters (spaces in included). But amazingly, the Babe in Bethlehem contains the fullness of God, pleased to dwell. Jesus, our Emmanuel. By the character of his unfailing love and obedience unto death, even death on a cross, we are offered our salvation.
At 279 characters (including spaces and punctuation), the angel message to the shepherds could be posted as a Facebook status update (I wonder if Gabriel has a Facebook account. If so, he hasn’t friended me yet). The message is too long for a tweet or a text.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Somehow the old version beats, “Gd nws gr8 joy 2 u a savr go c bby n mngr”
BTW, you tech types might enjoy this from You Tube
See you Sunday as we celebrate the good news that when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law. (Galatians 4:4).