December 6, 2015

Breaking News


Text: Luke 3:3a: “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming…"

Friends, I have already made the first of my New Year’s resolutions. I may even act on it before the end of the year. My resolution is that I’m finally, once and for all, no-going-back getting the heck rid of cable television.

I know this is nothing special. In fact I think I’m at the tail end of the trend. This is already a thing. I don’t care. I’m doing it for my own health.

The problem is that I don’t have a casual relationship with the news. I have something closer to an addictive relationship with the news. It has gotten better as I’ve gotten older, but not much. I don’t just read the news; I consume the news. I have a kind of desperate need to feel I’m on top of things. I’m the guy who can stand in the middle of Times Square looking at the headlines scroll by for hours.

Probably this is all a way of compensating for how inconsequential I am. I need to feel important, and therefore I regard myself as a person who Must Be Informed, so that others will think I’m important. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.

But what really has pushed me over the edge is Breaking News. Breaking News is what used to be the exceptional moment in news history. It was when Walter Cronkite was handed a piece of paper while he was on the air. It was when we interrupt this program to bring you the following special bulletin.

I’ve noticed that whenever I tune into CNN these days, it’s never just news. It’s always “breaking news.” And that totally sucks me in. Nothing is ever just new facts in the world being communicated to me. It’s always breathless, always urgent, always breaking news. I once counted Wolf Blitzer saying the phrase “Breaking news” twelve time in ten minutes.

Of course this was all the more true this week, after the terrible events in California.

It’s the urgency that captures us. We can ignore peril, we can ignore trouble, we can even ignore disaster, but for some reason we cannot easily set aside urgency. It cuts through all of our indifference, it grabs us by the collar and shakes until it has our attention. And more often than not, it gets our attention. Urgency works.

The story of John the Baptist is often distilled down to the matter of his unusual costume, a vivid picture of a man in camel skins belted around his middle and eating insects. John the Baptist is the New Testament’s feral creature. We also know him as Jesus’s cousin, as a prophet who goes about quoting the Messianic prophecies, a man who calls people to confront themselves and make an act of repentance in coming to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan.

But we miss something important in John by overlooking this simple, basic fact: He is absolutely determined to get his message out, and he feels urgently about getting people to understand what is happening. John the Baptist is the Wolf Blitzer of the Bible. He is the man with breaking news.

It’s one thing to have news you can’t wait to share. It’s another to share it with such force, such emphasis, such immediacy as to get people to listen. We go through our lives these days with people yelling at us, in one way or another, desperate to get our attention. But occasionally, from time to time, one of those messages breaks through all the noise and becomes a clear signal, a clarion call.

There are two dimensions to our hearing John the Baptist as an example of just that kind of urgent message in this season of expectation.

The first is quite simply that his message still gets our attention. It gets our attention because despite all our advantages, despite all our progress, despite all our wealth and power and creature comforts, we are no less eager for good news than were the people of John’s day. The people of Judea and Galilee and Ituraea and Traconitis and Abilene are no different from the people of Newton and Waltham and San Bernardino and Colorado Springs and Damascus and Paris; they, we, need good news, real good news, gospel news, news of God’s acting to set the world back to rights.

The second is that now, all those years later, in the midst of our own present troubles and tribulations, we are not meant to be the listeners; we are meant to be the proclaimers. We are the ones who have news to share. We are the ones who have found purpose and promise, affirmation and acceptance, reconciliation and forgiveness.

We have found the capacity for grace in our community and in ourselves, not because we’ve earned it but because God, we have learned, keeps promises and has kept covenant with us.

So yes, God knows we need good news. But God also knows that we have good news—and what is more, to many of the people desperate for hope, eager for a ray of light, we are the good news.

We are the living Body of Christ, the working hands of a loving God, the lived experience of a community sustained by the sacrament and pointed toward the future in faith. It’s not just that Christmas is coming; it’s that God is still here, still working through us to bring the message of reconciliation, still offering the means of grace, and the hope of glory. Amen.