Big data and the Birth of Christ

From the information superhighway to artificial intelligence to contact tracing for COVID-19, ours is certainly the era of “big data.”

“Big data” might seem like an odd theme for a meditation on the Advent season and the approaching celebration of our Lord’s nativity. But if we mine below the surface, several occasions for reflection emerge.

For starters, the Christmas story unfolds against the backdrop of history’s first “big data” machine. When Caesar issues his decree for enrollment, the Romans have been administering the census for hundreds of years. Joseph and Mary thus find themselves in Bethlehem courtesy of an epic arithmetical apparatus.

Secondly, the Incarnation marks a shift not just in the bond between God and His people, but in how this union bears fruit beyond measure. In Genesis, the Father vows to multiply Abraham’s descendants as the stars. In the Gospels, the Son calls us to make disciples of all nations. In each covenant, the total tally of the faithful is heralded as a staggering sum. But with Christ, the system architecture grows vastly bigger.

Finally, the word data itself is infused with the Christmas spirit. In Latin, data means “things given” – or put differently, “gifts.” And while the Magi serve as a merry model of generosity, we know that precious “data” do not consist of gold, frankincense, or myrrh. Rather, the greatest gift of Christmas – of all time – is that which we receive from our Heavenly Father, who so loved the world that he gave His only son.

This Christmas, amidst the offerings of the season and the information overload of daily life, let us cherish the grandness of the gift-giving of God and our vocation to go big in forwarding that “data” to others.