We might better at sharing bad news (or fake news) these days
I read a sobering report about the fake news that is being spread in immigrant communities in the United States that is stoking fears and prejudices. The big tech companies have responded, to an extent, but they largely don’t see themselves as responsible for the content that’s shared (unless it is egregious). Even defamation lawsuits are being filed against the propagators of the fake news when they put into question the character of individuals, like Antonio Mugica, whose company is responsible for the SMARTMATIC voting machines some news outlets have claimed are rigging the presidential election (even though those machines weren’t used in contested states)—thankfully, Newsmax changed its tune once the litigation came.
It is amazing how people get their news these days and what they share. It’s not just fake news that’s being shared on my timeline. I simply get a lot of bad news—bad news that’s perfectly accurate, for that matter. It’s more covid-19 cases and deaths, it’s a new virus strain, it’s capital punishment, racialized police brutality, sobering news about the climate crisis. I participate too! When I hear bad news I want to share it with others who might feel the same way, so that we might have a common experience, and maybe a common mission to confront these evil things in the world.
2020 has been a year where we are used to getting bad news. And at the risk of overstating it, I think the bad news, especially of this pandemic, is something that all of us can share in, as we await our liberation from it. I wish that we, as a people, could share in our common suffering together more than we do. That we could lament about all the bad news together. I hope we listen to one another and hear where our pain is, so that we can hold it together.
The shepherds are awaiting their freedom, and they receive the Good News of it
The shepherds who are watching a flock by night receive the Good News they’ve been waiting for, after hearing so much bad news. Like Mary and the Prophets before them, they are a part of a story and a tradition that helps them to collectively lament their bad news together. But they can do so because they know that despite their bad news, Good News awaits them. God’s faithfulness is longer than our despair is. God’s love endures forever. So no matter what horror they found themselves in, they knew that the truth would prevail.
When the Shepherds first see the Heavenly Host fill the sky, they are genuinely terrified. But the angel tells them not to be afraid because they are bringing, “Good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.”
Two things to note about that proclamation. One, it’s good news for “all the people,” but it’s also good news for the shepherds specifically, because “in the town of David” their savior is being born “to you,” the angel says. He’s the Messiah and the Lord you’ve been waiting for, he is Christ the Lord.
After they hear this news, the Shepherds tell one another, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” When they meet Jesus, they go and tell the world. They go and tell it on the mountain, if you will. They declare joy to the world. As the passage in Luke 2 says, “When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.”
The shepherds are gifted Good News tellers
The Shepherds receive the Good News they’ve been waiting for. They believe it (and confirm it), and tell the world. It may be tempting to think you need to be a Good News sharer with that much faith, but I think these shepherds are gifted at doing this. And telling the Good News far and wide, and sharing it, is something that specific people are gifted at doing.
I’ve committed my life to finding people who have those gifts, but I think we are at a disadvantage for finding the people that are gifted at telling the Good News of Jesus for a number of reasons. For one thing, the “Good News” of Jesus has been filled with all sorts of meaning over the last two thousand years. This isn’t a new problem, as there were also varying narratives for the Jewish people about what this Messiah would be (and in fact, this Messiah, who comes in the form of a baby, definitely defies many of those narratives).
But another issue is that these meanings get cemented, both by political empires and social ones. Certainly Imperial Christianity in Europe had its influence, but White American Evangelicals have their own sort of social empire (that’s well on display now), that offers meanings to this Good News that are hard to shake. What is Christianity known for? Hypocrisy and judgment. It’s no wonder why people are rejecting “religion” in favor of “spirituality.” Undoing that meaning takes a lot of work, and some of us are gifted at that deconstruction.
But others of us are gifted at not naming the lies, but telling the true Good News. What the Good News tellers can do now is declare the truth of the Good News and cut through the lies. The angels tell the shepherds what that good news us: peace and good will. There is much more to the story than that, but that is a good start, I’d say. I hope that the gifted ones among us, who have confirmed the Good News in their lives and community, can share it.
The Good News is true, and I think many of us have experienced it within us. I think that’s the best place to start. The shepherds aren’t talking about a principle when they share the Good News. They are talking about their experience with the angels. You may not have an experience like that, but your story is a good one to share and people will find the Good News of Jesus in it. Some people will be more fervent than others, as the Shepherds are. Perhaps you’ll ponder it in your heart like Mary did. But ponder it, consider it, and know that your experience with God might matter too.
If you want an experience with God but don’t yet have one, get close to folks who have one, and maybe even share their story (you can even do this on social media). That’s the other thing the Shepherds knew: they knew this sort of revelation happened in community and in a family and in a tradition (even the Messengers themselves come in a multitude). They didn’t need to be spiritual on their own, they were born into a tradition. This could happen in a worship meeting, in a cell, or even in a relationship. Be a part of something bigger than you, so that you don’t have to figure out what the Good News is all by yourself.
Let’s tell the Good News and cut through all the fake news.