When I first worked in high-tech in the mid-nineties, the annual, end-of -year office party was a major calendar milestone, especially for this conservative Christian girl who never went to prom. We dressed up in our fanciest clothes. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank champagne on the company’s generous dime (or dollar, as the case undoubtedly was). We marveled at the sight of our diminutive 50-something office receptionist shaking her spandex-clad, fireplug-shaped self on the dance floor with her decades-younger . . . . whateverhewas.
Times have definitely changed.
This week, the Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal featured stories about the rise of the “virtual” office holiday party. The confluence of the ubiquity of video-conferencing technology, remote office workers, and businesses who want to scale back on conspicuous corporate consumption has meant an end to in-person, after-hours, end-of-year merriment. Instead, company colleagues login to WebEx and GoToMeeting sessions from their home offices for “virtual” parties. They have tacky sweater contests, walk around their houses with their laptop webcams to show off decorations and pets, and generally make virtual merry without the hassle of a designated driver.
This phenomenon might be new news to readers of the Wall Street Journal, but it’s very much old news, of a seriously triggering kind, for me. Five years ago last week, I tried to return to the full-time, high-tech workforce after a long hiatus as a stay at home mother. On my very first day on the job, I walked in to my office to see my new work colleagues sitting in a conference room, engaged in just such a “party”. The mood was one of wide-eyed, desperate “ARENTWEHAVINGFUN?!” that out OfficeSpace-d OfficeSpace. I tried to shake off the psychic chill I felt as so much first-day jitters, but I shouldn’t have. It was an omen of a company that, at its’ core, saw people as little more than iPhone apps on a screen, valuable while useful and expendable when not. Six months later, I walked away, my only regret being that I hadn’t listened to my instincts and done an about-face on that first day.
Was my discomfort at the sight of people pretending to make happy with each other via video just symptomatic of how behind the times I’d become during my years away from the business world? I don’t think so. I think I was responding quite viscerally to the modern assumption that physical presence is so much NBD. But this week, of all weeks, is the week we remember why that’s a lie, and a lie of cosmic import.
Several thousand years and some months ago, an angel visited a trembling teenage girl to announce that the long-awaited heir to the throne of David was finally coming to establish His kingdom, not through military occupation, but through active residency in her womb. Nine months later, Mary held in her tired and trembling arms the Savior that the angels proclaimed and the shepherds left their sheep to see for themselves, and to worship. 33 years later, Mary stood and watched as the baby she had nursed at her breast became the man bleeding and broken on a cross, with burial clothes replacing swaddling cloths, laid cold and lifeless in a borrowed tomb.
But three days later, the Man who had once raised Lazarus’ body was raised bodily Himself. He walked with, and talked with, and fed the disciples who doubted, until He went to be with His Father, not abandoning us, but because He was preparing a place where we would be with Him. Not virtually. But literally.
And until that time, every time that we meet together in person, to eat the bread of His body and drink the wine of His life-giving blood, we proclaim His physical death, and the spiritual, and eternal, life it accomplished for us, until the day He returns.
The celebrations the world invites us to may be digitized and commoditized for convenience’s sake.
But the celebration that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords paid for, with His own blood, will not.