In the name of Christ. Amen.
One of the great miracles of our life together, here in the 21st century, is that relationships are always available to us, if only we’ll take the time to see them. Like most people of my generation, a lot of how I interact with my friends and family on a day-to-day basis is through Facebook. It’s a way for me to see pictures of growing babies, and vacations, and pets; to learn about job transitions and engagements and graduations; and generally just to keep up – even with the sometimes mundane realities of life.
But, of course, Facebook isn’t just a way to keep in touch with friends. It’s also a business. And, as a wise person once said, “If you’re not paying for something, then you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” And one of the ways that they make money off of me is by selling my exposure to things I’d otherwise never go out of my way to see.
Advertisers on Facebook can be really clever. They hide their advertisements in plain sight, as if they were content. One of the most iconic ways that they’ve done this is through “quizzes” – collections of multiple choice questions that claim to be able to tell you something about yourself that you don’t already know; or something about yourself that the computer couldn’t possibly know. Things come up like, “tell us foods you hate to eat, and we’ll tell you how old you really are.” Because we all know we’re not really the age our birth certificates tell us… Or, tell us which places you’ve visited, and we’ll tell you what your career should be. Or which Hogwarts house you belong to. Or which Sex and the City character you are.
Last week, I saw one I’d never seen before: Answer just three questions, and we’ll tell you what you’re worth.
I was taken aback. That idea – of determining someone’s value on the basis of what they own – is already a little uncomfortable. Admittedly that’s partly because I don’t own much, but mostly, it’s because it flies in the face of everything I believe about our faith. But this “quiz” took things even further. As much as ownership can’t determine real value and worth, three short answers to multiple choice questions miss the mark all the more.
One of the things that I love most about the story of Jesus is the way it keeps turning the world upside down. Even in ways that the church has traditionally missed the mark, if you read the story of Jesus, you’ll see again and again that our preconceptions and biases are almost always shot down.
For centuries, the church taught that women were of almost no value, and worse, sometimes even outright evil – but the story of Jesus shows that that can’t possibly be true. Women were the first ones to learn about the resurrection. In John’s gospel, the Samaritan woman at the well is the first person to whom Jesus confides that he is the Messiah. And, of course, there’s the story of Christmas – when the news that this Messiah would even come into the world, the news came first to Mary; not to the men who would have legal authority over her; not to the leaders of the faith or the government; but to Mary, a young, vulnerable woman.
And, once he is born, the news of Jesus is proclaimed by angels – not to the pillars of society, but to shepherds in the field. Laborers. Workers, dirty from the mud and sweat and stink of working outside with animals. These aren’t the people you expect to find as prophets of the most-high God, incarnated in the flesh of Jesus.
The people to whom God is revealed earliest and most often are the people that Facebook quizzes would almost certainly deem to be of little or no value. People who just aren’t worth much. In our most honest moments, we’d probably have to admit that they’re the people that we, too, would most likely identify as those of least value.
But the message of Christ is clear: value to God; worthiness in the economy of Jesus – it’s just calculated differently. Value doesn’t have to do with what you own, or with what you’re capable of producing. It doesn’t have to do with who you know, or how important other people think you are. Our worth comes from grace. Our value comes because God sees it in us. Not because we can see it, or prove it, or convince others of it, or even because we can convince ourselves of it; but because it’s already there.
God loves us so much that God wants to be near us. God loves us so much that God wants us to know God’s nearness is already here. And because God wants us to know that, God came to be with us in the person of Jesus. God wanted to reach beyond our doubt and our fear and our preconceived notions, and give us something to touch. Something to feel and to know, so that we could own the reality of God in our lives. Something – someone – tangible, that would help us understand just how valuable we are.
Christmas is kind of like a reset button. It’s a chance for us to come back home from a year that’s been filled with doubt and frustration and anxiety and all those other things that make us feel like God isn’t a part of our lives. To see the baby, lying in the manger, and to remember all the promise that he has in store. To remember the ways that his life would show us our value. To remember to look for Christ in our lives – even when we feel most separated and unworthy.
Because the truth is, you are worthy. You are valuable. No matter what some online quiz says. No matter what your bank account says or your piles of bills. You don’t have to be perfect. And thank God for that, because none of us would make it. You just have to remember, now and then, that you are loved, and that you’re called to love, as well.
God gave that message to women, and to shepherds, and to foreigners, and to all manner of people who were told in all manner of ways that they didn’t deserve to hear it. And that’s God’s message for you this Christmas, too. You are valuable. More valuable than any gift you could give or receive. You are the best gift this Christmas, because you have the capacity to see Christ in the world, and to be Christ in the world for someone else. Thanks be to God. Merry Christmas. Amen.