1 December 2019
Revd Nicholas Mercer
I received quite a shock the other day when I tried to look up some news on the Sherborne School website
I found that I could now choose between Twitter, Facebook, Sound Cloud and Instagram
I did not know where to start
Understanding social media is especially difficult for me as I don’t “do” social media
But, I am conscious however that my children and millions of others receive a huge amount of their news in this way
The same applies in our national life and, as a keen follower of politics, I am interested in the role social media is playing in the General Election
I was fascinated to hear one member of the public being interviewed who said that nursery care was the single biggest issue for her in the election
When pressed further about where she had heard about it, she said she had seen it on Facebook.
Some party, possibly all parties are getting that news and much else onto a social media platform
But social media is not without its problems
News can be distorted /
Sacha Baron Cohen attacked Facebook this week for enabling the proliferation of misinformation.
We all now know that a fact checker might be nothing of the sort
Twitter has removed political advertising from its platform because of manipulation
Announcements, and the way they are communicated can be fraught with difficulty
The reading at Liquid Worship this morning was the annunciation to the Virgin Mary
And I thought that I would preach, for a change, on the reading chosen for our children
Not least, because it is our Church too
But also because the story chimes well with the beginning of Advent as we await the birth of the Christ Child
Annunciation is, of course, a smart word for an announcement and it is about the news announced to Mary that she is with child
It is a familiar story
A betrothed virgin is told by the Angel Gabriel that she is with child and will bear a son.
It is announced to her in person
“Do not be afraid, Mary, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus”.
Following on from Christ the King, we are told
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David”.
It is not only a remarkable story in itself but so is the chosen means of communication
Rather than speak to Mary direct, God, in a sense, uses a form of social media to speak to Mary
His message to Mary is conveyed by the angel Gabriel
One of the heavenly hosts – perhaps using information from the cloud?
The story of the annunciation has been published and re- published many times since
But before the advent of social media, painting was the most popular way of messaging
An early form of snapchat?
On only has to go the National Gallery to see this first hand
There are paintings from Duccio, Lippi and Poussin all depicting the Annunciation
My favourite however is by the Italian artist, Carlo Crivelli
His painting, “the Annunciation” was painted in 1486 for the Church of the Ascension in the Italian town of Ascoli Piceno
It shows the Virgin Mary receiving the news that she is with child in a shaft of light beamed into her house
The message is however mediated through the Holy Spirit, who takes the form of a dove
Perhaps this is the first tweet?
But the picture also has the charming detail of town officials waiting to proclaim the Good News using racing pigeons
They are seen kept in a basket and waiting to be released once the Good News is known
Perhaps this is a re-tweet?
But not only has the story been retold in art, other mediums have been used as well
The film director Jean Luc Goddard produced a film called “Je vous salue Marie” (Hail Mary) which was first shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1985
The film tells the story of the Virgin Mary in a contemporary setting
Marie, a student, works at her father’s gas station and plays basketball for a local team;
Her boyfriend Joseph, is a taxi cab driver.
When a stranger informs Marie that she will become pregnant she is at first shocked and then confused.
Her boyfriend accuses her of being unfaithful whilst Marie, amidst the furore, comes to terms with God’s plan
The film is both moving and creative in imagining what the story of the Virgin birth might look like today
The, New York Times commented that this film is
“about the demands of faith, which, in this time of cynicism, is the most truly controversial aspect of the movie.”
But as well as the demands of faith in a contemporary setting
It is fascinating to ponder for a moment how God might have relayed the news to Mary today?
Can one envisage this being done by text?
But returning to our present times
Remarkably, in a word of social media, the news of the coming of Christ in this Advent period is peculiarly not being broadcast by social media, as one might expect
But instead conveyed, as in times of old, from the Bible
At our Liquid worship this morning we heard the news, from the Children’s Bible, that the Virgin Mary was with child
At our Advent Carol Service this evening, we will hear, from the NRSV, the story of the prophets, who foresee the coming of the Christ child
And the story and the birth of Christ will be re-told by the Boyle and Petyt School at their Nativity play in the Priory ruins next Saturday, again using Biblical text
The story will be told, again and again, up until and including Christmas Day
And we rejoice each time it is re-tweeted
And so in this age of social media
When we are confronted with one media platform after another
Rather than be confused, we should recognise that the telling and retelling of the news is nothing new
Painting, film, drama, text – it has all been done before and will continue to evolve
But when it comes to the story of the birth of Jesus, whatever platform is used, there is a difference between our own domestic news and the Good News
When it comes to the Good news
We don’t need a fact checker
We don’t need to worry about the proliferation of misinformation
Because we have nothing to hide and nothing to distort
Because this is the truth
This is the truth from above – and that makes all the difference