From Telegraph to Telephone across the Uncanny Valley
This sermon is entitled "From Telegraph to Telephone across the Uncanny Valley." If you don't get it, the tech person sitting near you is salivating at the prospect of the uncanny valley being crossed.
First back to the future. On May 24, 1844 the first formal telegraph was sent from Baltimore to Washington D.C. An age less benighted and besotted than ours customarily turned to God's Word for their words at momentous occasions. The message sent was from Nu, 23:23, "What has God wrought?"
What has God wrought? Certainly not this. Sin, Death, and Devil walk this land and are embraced by it. God created us not just for fellowship with Him but friendship. We were meant to work in Paradise during the day, unfettered by clothes and unsummoned sexual thoughts, and then to walk with God in the cool of the evening. See anything remotely like that going on in the world around you? The valley that was meant to sprout with lilies has become a vale of tears. How green was the valley God created for us! But it has become the Valley of Elah where Goliaths of unbelief in medicine, politics, technology, and art defy the living God with impunity.
What has God wrought? He hasn't dug this uncanny valley though who is blamed when this culture of sexual license produces sexual deviants? Who is blamed when this culture of killing unborn kids produces kids that shoot up their school? Who is blamed when this society that purposely inoculates its kids with the randomness of evolution and the dogma of the survival of the fittest produces bullies at school and businessman who raise the cost of lifesaving drugs by over 5,000%? Who's blamed for this deep ditch? The holy God who is love.
Dots and dashes communicate words but not enough to cross the uncanny valley. The spoken Word is needed. On March 10, 1876, after almost 30 years with nothing but dots and dashes to cross the valley between people, Alexander Graham Bell said over a telephone line, "Come here I want to see you" (The Men who United the States, 352). Words were much better, but even here they weren't enough Bell needed to see Watson.
Left to ourselves there's no way we're crossing the uncanny valley. There's no way we're working our way back to God. And you're fooling yourself if you think you or anyone else on their own wants to. Scripture says, "No one seeks God." That little verse puts to death the lie that deep in our hearts all men really want to see God. Nope, and even if someone did, it's impossible. "No man hath seen God at any time," John tells us. God's pretty clear about this. He tells Moses, whom Scripture says God spoke to as a man speaks to a friend, "You cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live."
But God wouldn't let the matter go. After Adam first dug the uncanny valley, the Lord came looking for him." Where art thou" God called? Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David all had God come after them. God came for Noah lost with the giants of unbelief in the Valley of Elah. God came for Abraham lost with the idol worshippers in the Euphrates valley. God came for Moses in the burning bush and for David burning up with lust, adultery, and murder in the Word of God.
Henry Adam, a historian alive at the telegraph's invention said of it: "The old universe was thrown into the ash-heap and a new one created" (Ibid. 345). That's what many think has happened with Smartphones, social media, and the instant gratification that comes with instant communication and information. Well, they're as wrong as Adam's was. Whatever men create can mitigate the consequences of the Fall think of antibiotics, airbags, and anesthesias but they can't cure the Fall. It takes a new universe to do that.
How we are atwitter when men create something new that 9 times out of 10 simply does what the old did better, faster, or with more pizzazz. But God says in Isaiah 43:19, "I am doing a new thing." God the Son tells you what that is in Hebrews 10:5, "A body Thou hast prepared for Me." 1 Cor. 15 says that the first Adam was a living being able to pass on physical life. The last Adam says 1 Cor. 15 became a life-giving Spirit able to pass on spiritual life to fallen physical beings.
God didn't clean out the old universe; God didn't clean up the first Adam or us descendants of him. God started brand new in the womb of a Virgin. He sent His only beloved Son into the womb to go through all the stages of gestation and all the terrors of a fallen birth to redeem, to recreate human flesh and blood every step of the way. God did throw the old universe into the ash-heap of history: ashes to ashes dust to dust. And says, "Behold! I create all things new." Not renewed, but brand new in form, quality, of a different nature from that which is old (Vine).
Let me ask you something. Are those gifts you're going home to open - brand new clothes, toys, technology, and jewelry - free? No someone paid for those new gifts. God in Christ makes all things new: new mankind, new heavens, new earth and He gives them to us sinners who have an uncanny way of digging the uncanny valley ever deeper. Do you think all this newness comes without a price? Ever brought a kid to the point of realizing that there is no possible way he can pay for what he has broken but someone has to? That's a significant step in his growing up; a significant step in our spiritual growth is when it dawns on us: all this newness a new start today without sin, guilt, shame was paid for by Someone.
I know who that Someone is. He's in the arms of Mary being nursed, but He's already on the path of sorrow and stripes that heal us, that recreate us because He goes in our place. This Man of Sorrows is going to be acquainted with griefs so ugly, so heavy, so deep that I don't want to speak of them on Christmas. They were so bad they pierced the soul of His mother as she watched Him die one bloody drop at a time as one abandoned by God and damned to hell. Then it was finished. Your gift of forgiveness and new life that you open every time you step into your Baptism or open your mouth for Communion was paid for in full. And just as you don't want your toddler dwelling on how much his gifts cost you but to enjoy those gifts to the fullest, so it is with your heavenly Father.
We jump now over a 100 years to 1979. That's when AT&T came out with their "Reach out and Touch Someone" commercial. That ad campaign was an effort to lessen the public's wariness toward the phone. They wanted to move people to think that a phone ringing in the night was a friend calling not news that someone had died (The Men, 355). We need to be touched by God's Word. That's how the uncanny valley is crossed. The 13th century King Fredrick II ordered some children to be raised without speaking to them to find out what language they would naturally develop. They all died (Fractured Personalities, 35-6). No one really lives apart from God speaking to them.
And God speaks in the Person of Jesus. He crosses the uncanny valley. This is the term in computer animation for the phenomenon that the closer a computer-generated human gets to total realism, the more disturbing the image becomes (Lost in the Valley, Time, 1/20/14). And this was the problem of God coming to us. Because of our sinfulness we couldn't cross to Him, and because of His glory, holiness, and power the closer He got to us the more distorted He became. Pagans know this. Homer said, "gods revealed are hard to look upon" (Iliad, xx, 372). Plato said even if one could find the Father of the universe it would be impossible to express Him in terms we could understand. Aristotle said the Supreme Cause could be known by no man (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 169).
If you try to reach out and touch God through His divinity, you will pull back a smoking stump. Luther said that it was "exceedingly godless temerity" to try to approach God through His divinity and majesty when He had humiliated Himself in order to be recognizable to us; that is in order to cross the uncanny valley (LW, 29, 111). But men seek another way to reach Him. They don't start with the flesh and blood swaddled in Mary's lap to learn about God. They don't start with the Water God in the Flesh commanded them to use; they don't start with His Words but their own pious or impious thoughts; they don't start with the Bread He gives that is His Body or the Wine He gives that is His Blood to learn about God, they start with what's inside of them not outside of them.
Modern Christians don't use the flesh and blood of Jesus to learn about divinity. No they use them to learn about self or how to deal with their fellowman. Look at what passes for their Bible studies and sermons. You hear how you're not like Jesus but should be and can be. You hear how your fellowman needs someone to be Jesus to them. Not me. I need Jesus to be God to me. A God who vibrates my eardrums and soul with His Word; a God I can touch in Water and eat and drink with my mouth and swallow all the way to my soul.
God has reached out and touched me by who Jesus is the God/Man, and by what He does redeems, recreates, and resurrects me, and it's not long distance. And it's more than a drop of Water on my head, a Word in my ear, or a Bread crumb in my mouth, although this would be more than enough. But no; God in Christ embraces me. And even pagan's know a God's embraces are never in vain (Lewis, Psalms, 132), but always fruitful.
Now we're to our stage of development communications-wise: Wireless. The first wireless program was Christmas Eve 1906. Marconi said he read the song of the Christmas angels, "'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of God will.'" Now that's doubted by some (Men who United, 391), but what is beyond doubt is that God has wrought a mighty miracle by reaching out and touching us crossing the uncanny valley so that we might see Him face to face in Jesus and in the gifts He purchased for us. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Festival of Christmas (20151225)