Alec Baldwin is dead!
Clint Eastwood is dead!
Susan Boyle is dead!
Megan Kelly quit her Fox News show ON THE AIR!
At least that’s what I read on the Internet...
“Fake news” is a major discussion topic in politics these days. Some even assert that fake news swayed the election. To be honest, I personally encountered only two political fake news stories. One was the absurd “Pizzagate” fantasy, that a D.C. pizza parlor was hosting a ring of child molesters under Mrs. Clinton’s direction. One fellow believed that lunacy so completely that he went into the place with a gun to free the poor enslaved children. The other bit of fake news I encountered was “Pope Francis Endorses Trump”. Since the Pope believes in unrestricted immigration, regards defense industry workers as non-Christian, and takes a relatively soft view on Islamic terrorism, the idea of His Holiness as a Trumpkin is nonsensical. So neither of these “fake news” stories fooled me.
Oddly enough, satire–which is not “fake news” because you’re not really supposed to believe it–has occasionally fooled me! I remember reading a story about a famous conservative politician making some blatantly racist comments...and I actually believed it...until she was quoted as saying: “President Woodrow Wilson would be turning over in his grave!” That was the tip off. Conservatives hate Woodrow Wilson. So I checked the site and it turned out to be satire. But for a fleeting moment, I was fooled!
A relative of “fake news” is the beloved “urban legend”–those things that we all know to be true that aren’t true at all. Poinsettias kill cats. Bill Cosby bought the rights to the Little Rascals to make sure the show could never be aired again. Alice Cooper is actually Eddie Haskell from the “Leave It to Beaver” show. Ozzy Osborne bites the heads off live bats in his stage show. A chef’s innards were literally cooked by continual exposure to microwaves. The CEO of Proctor and Gamble pledged his devotion to Satan on the Phil Donahue Show. These “facts” circulated widely by word-of-mouth long before the internet came along. In a way, “fake news” is the urban legend on steroids.
The Christmas story is filled with news. Our hymns talk about “herald” and about “tidings”–those both are fancy ways of saying “news”. Actually, even the word “Gospel” means “good news” (“God spell” in medieval English, translating the Greek word euangelion). So the message about Jesus really is news, wonderful news! (By the way, the great American newspaperman Horace Greeley insisted that the word “news” was plural. He once telegraphed a reporter: “Are there any news?” And the reporter replied: “Not a single new”.)
So the birth of Jesus is news, good news. Good news–NOT FAKE NEWS! Real news! The Wise Men discovered that. The rising star told them the news of the great King’s birth. They followed the star...to Jerusalem, where from the Scriptures they got some more specific information. And then they found the baby Jesus! They didn’t have to say, “Oh, man, we got fooled! We got played!” The news that the star gave them was not fake at all.
In the early days of Christianity, there was a famous Jewish rabbi named Gamaliel (under whom St. Paul studied). When Peter and John were brought before the Jewish council, Gamaliel pondered whether the message about Jesus was legitimate or not. These are his wise words: "Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days Theu'das arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" (Acts 5:35-39). False Messiahs had arisen, said Gamaliel–people were deceived into following them. These imposters were “fake news”. But they never lasted, Gamaliel said. Their movements died away. Let’s wait and see if this Jesus movement dies away. If it’s fake news, it surely will!
Two thousand years later...the movement is still going strong. It’s survived persecution and massive social disruption. The Roman Empire tried to kill it. The Soviet Union tried to kill it. Now the Islamic State is trying to kill it. But it survivies. Because it’s not fake news. It’s the real Magilla. It’s the Truth! The Truth that God came into the world and was born as a little child...the truth that God, in the same flesh that was laid in a manger in Bethlehem, was nailed to a cross for our salvation.
“Sure could use a little good news today,” Ann Murray sang. Well, after a year like 2016, we need some good news. And we got it. Jesus is born! Jesus has come. That’s not fake news...that’s good news!
God loves you and so do I!