Telephones, Christmas, and a Baby Named Emmanuel

Dixon Kinser

Chances are that this Christmas, one of the gifts under your tree will be a mobile phone, a tablet, a video game, or an iTunes gift card. Much of what we do for entertainment is related to electronic gadgetry. In fact, nearly every aspect of our lives, from homework to housekeeping, is connected in some way to digital media.


The Medium Is the Message

Have you heard the phrase “The medium is the message”? Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, proposed that the technology we use and the way we use it changes our lives more than the content it carries. So what you’re seeing on the Internet is not influencing you nearly as much as the fact that you are using the Internet in the first place. Make sense?

My point in bringing up this idea is that technology totally affects the way we see the world, ourselves, even God. This is especially true, I think, of the telephone.


Phoning It In

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In the world before the telephone, people could not speak to one another without being physically close. If they wanted to communicate with their voices, they had to get close enough so that the listener could actually hear what the speaker said. Think about how our lives changed when the telephone arrived. With the phone, we could speak to people we could not see, people who were far away.

The telephone changed our world. One of the changes was the way in which many Christians understood prayer. Because they could not see the God to whom they prayed, they began to think of prayer as a telephone call. And if prayer was like a phone call, the person praying must be speaking to a God who was far away.

The Christmas story confronts this idea head on.


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In the Gospel of Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him that Mary is pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph is to name the child Jesus, which means “God saves.” Matthew 1:22–23 (NRSV) explains: “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’”

Emmanuel as a name for Jesus highlights what God is doing at Christmas: God is coming near to us. From the covenant with Abraham to the Exodus to the Temple in Jerusalem, God had been moving toward people, inviting them into relationship. In Jesus, God takes “moving toward people” up a notch with the ultimate divine-human partnership: the Incarnation. That’s what Christmas is all about: God draws near and partners with people to heal the world. Christmas is the beginning of the fulfillment of promises made to Abraham and Israel. But we can miss the point if we think that the God we love is far away.



This Christmas season, remember the world before the invention of the telephone. Remember and celebrate that God is with us, close enough to hear us when we pray. Then pray The Lord’s Prayer; and as you pray these words that Jesus taught us, remember that we are asking to join God in healing the world by helping to bring in God’s kingdom and to make life on earth a little closer to what it is in heaven.

Dixon Kinser of Nashville, Tennessee, is a husband, father, speaker, author, musician, amateur filmmaker, and Episcopal priest who works in youth and young adult ministry, rides his bike when he can, and takes movies and TV way too seriously.

—from devozine (November/December 2012). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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