St Michael’s and St Barnabas 24th December 2017
Readings – Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14
Around the end of each year the providers of English language dictionaries sit down and decide what is the word or phrase that has made the most impact over the past 12 months. It might be a new word; it might be a word that has suddenly come back into fashion; it might be a word that has recently hit the headlines. So, for example, Oxford Dictionaries decided their word of the year 2017 was “youthquake” which has got most people puzzled as it’s something they’ve never heard of before. Websters Dictionaries chose the word “feminism” on the basis it has apparently had a huge upsurge in popularity. But it was the choice of Collins Dictionaries that attracted the most attention, and rightly so. Their word of the year 2017 was – well, it might seem like two words to us, but let’s not get technical – their word of the year was, and I’ve researched this very carefully, “fake news.”
Apparently the first use of the term “fake news” was some time back in the 1890s but as we all know one particular individual has made this word almost ubiquitous. Time after time we have seen the President of the United States stand at a podium, making that hand gesture, and dismissing some news story or other as “fake news.” And of course, where the president leads, others follow.
Now we’ve been very aware over the past few years that not every item that appears on the Internet can be trusted. We know that certain stories are planted deliberately in our media, and we know that some sources are more reliable than others. But by calling something “fake news” we’re doing more than simply saying something isn’t true. We are saying that whatever the story is about, we can dismiss it and ridicule those who believe in it. Fake news is something we don’t have to investigate or even read properly. We can simply ignore it and whatever facts it claims to present, and send it straight into the spam folder or the recycle bin.
And for quite a few people the whole Christmas story falls under the category of “fake news.” At best, it is a sweet winter’s tale that entertains and amuses the children every year. At worst, it is the invention of the early church designed to force others in accepting their beliefs. That at least is the contention of Dan Brown, and judging from the millions who somehow believe his books are worth reading, there are plenty who share his point of view.
But for Luke the whole point of the Christmas story is that it is “good news.” The angel tells the shepherds on the hillside at Bethlehem: Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. And of course, as you might expect, I will in a moment be looking at what this good news is. But before I can even begin to look at the angel’s words, we have to ask ourselves – how can we be sure that what we hear year by year is not fake news? Why is this a story that we can trust as something reliable and accurate? Read the rest of this entry »