Virtuous reality

Simon Smart joins the dots between the human desire to be physically together and the marvel of the incarnation.

A few years ago, our family spent Christmas in a ski resort in Canada. At last, the baked turkey, warm pudding, and brandy custard all made sense. At night, lights sparkled out of a brilliant white backdrop. It was magical.

Friends from the U.S. joined us for the week with their four kids, and a relationship that had for years been carried out via phone, text, email, and facetime, suddenly entered physical space and time. There were hugs, kisses, backslaps, handshakes, and high fives. We shared the thrilling icy cold of winter mountain air and the enveloping warmth of post-skiing meals, games, laughter, songs, and some tears.

For a big chunk of the last 2 years, we’ve all carried out the bulk of our relationships online—work, school, family, friends. It’s been a lot better than nothing. A highlight of lockdown for me was a Saturday night ritual with a group of mates taking on a cooking challenge where one of us would propose a reasonably complex meal and we’d tackle it together on zoom. It was fun and my cooking reached heights not seen before (or since).

But all of that is a poor substitute for being in the same room together. There is something essential to being human that’s related to physical presence and proximity. Touch, smell, and texture really matter.

Which is why it makes sense that the events of the first Christmas entailed the embodiment of a God who refuses to be distant but finds a way to engage humanity in the most earthy, physical, intimate way imaginable. The baby comes to us and, astonishingly, he is not merely a messenger from God, but God himself. It’s an enthralling story. A flicker of light and hope wrapped in human vulnerability, physicality, and a blanket.