‘Prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Words, whether written, spoken or signed, are at the centre of everything we do. Many people enjoy doing the crossword or engage in other word puzzles for relaxation. Every year Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States, publishes their word of the year which is the word that is most searched for in the online version of their dictionary. For 2023 it was the word ‘authentic’.
The editor, when announcing the result, said that they didn’t detect a particular peak for this search but there was a constancy of interest in the word throughout the year. He concluded that ‘we see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity. What we realise is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more’.
2023 was the year when Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT received a lot of attention. University lecturers began to question whether the essays and assignments being produced by their students were their own work. Others began to doubt the authenticity of public statements and interviews given by politicians. In fact, the world of artificial intelligence is now so advanced that even experts are finding it very hard to differentiate between what is a genuine interview with a real person, and an artificially created one of a living individual who has no idea about the words that are being put into their mouths on hoax videos.
On 6th January each year we celebrate the Epiphany. Matthew is the only gospel writer to describe the visit of the magi or wise men from the East to the Christ-child. In chapter 2 we read that King Herod sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
Of course, we, unlike these visitors from the East, know his agenda. He was not being honest or authentic when he declared that he wished to worship this new ‘king of the Jews’. Instead, perceiving Jesus as a threat to his political power, Herod was bent on his destruction. As the story unfolds, the magi arrive at Bethlehem, and they pay Jesus homage by offering their gifts. Then the message they had been given by Herod is shown to be inauthentic or fake, and they are warned in a dream to go home via another route so that they can avoid encountering Herod again. Jesus is safe for now, although he becomes a refugee along with his parents as they have to travel to Egypt.
While Herod is being duplicitous, there is one part of his request which we all can take to heart – ‘go and search diligently for the child’. It is a wonderful description of the Christian pilgrimage. To set out and search diligently is something we are all called to do, time and time again throughout our life. God leads us to explore new paths and there is always some new perspective or new insight to uncover.
In 1st Thessalonians 5: 21 we read ‘prove all things; hold fast that which is good.’ It is a principle we can all adopt and so it makes a good new year’s resolution.
As we journey through 2024, I pray that you will be diligent in your searching, that you will be discerning and so discover what is truly authentic in the year ahead.