This post is written by Martin Lees, one of our Lay Readers
“Here is the news”. That phrase always sounds so definitive, as if the news each day is a uniquely-defined set of stories. But of course someone has to decide which of the many events occurring each day to report. Some news editors focus on stories they believe are most in the public interest, and hence ought to be shared, while others choose what they believe will engage their target audience the most. The political leanings of the proprietors or their editors also affect which stories they report and the interpretation they put on them. Consequently one paper’s front page might be about a political shock while another leads on the latest on a soap star’s love life.
In recent years we have seen a proliferation of news providers through TV and the internet, so the range of interpretations of “the news” has widened. Online news services use complex algorithms to determine what news is most likely to interest us, based on our profiles. In some cases we can tailor the news topics that are fed to us. So the news media we follow will determine what news we hear, and how the stories are portrayed.
We are also now in the era of “fake news” – many of the new online news services are not held to account regarding the veracity of their stories, so all sorts of false stories can be disseminated and are in many cases believed by their readership.
Human nature is such that bad news is generally more interesting than good news. The church tends only to hit the headlines when there is a scandal, or a negative story about the church being internally divided, or out of touch with society. But in fact there are thousands of good news stories flowing from the church every week which are never reported. In Ashford alone the churches are running a Winter Night Shelter for the homeless again this year, offering debt counselling and a job club for those seeking work, a mentoring programme for young people, several community cafes and a soup kitchen, as well as countless individual acts of generosity and compassion. But these are rarely regarded as newsworthy.
People don’t always agree as to whether certain news is good or bad: after the Brexit vote, for example, half of us regarded the outcome as good news and almost as many of us heard it as bad news.
When the priest Zechariah was told that he and his elderly wife were to have a baby, who would grow up to become John the Baptist, the old guy couldn’t believe it – it seemed like fake news to him!
A little later the angels announced the birth of the baby Jesus to the shepherds as being good news to all mankind. But King Herod regarded the same event as very BAD news. He had a nice little number as the puppet King of Judea. Yes, he was under the thumb of the Roman authorities but they gave him quite a lot of freedom to govern his own little kingdom. So he didn’t want some Jewish baby growing up with a rival claim to being the King of the Jews.
We are all a bit like Herod. We like to govern our own lives, play the king, – even though in reality we are subject to all sorts of forces outside our control. And Jesus – God in human form – comes along, inviting us to make him the king of our lives instead. Is that good or bad news?
So with regard to the news that God entered our world through the birth of the baby Jesus, we have three choices to make: first, is it worth taking notice of? If it is true, then surely it is overwhelmingly relevant to how we should live our lives? So then we must decide whether it is true, or fake news. And finally, if it is true, do we regard it as good or bad news? That depends on whether you are happy to trust Jesus with the government of your life, rather than keeping control of it yourself. To anyone who thinks they are wise enough, strong-willed enough and far-sighted enough to always choose the best path in life – well, I’ve got news for you!