In 1998 the big Christmas movie was called Scrooged. It was a Bill Murray vehicle, and “one of the many, many take-offs from Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol. Murray was the Scrooge figure in the film as he played a hard-nosed television executive who disliked everything about Christmas except for the fact that his TV network could make a lot of money off the holidays. In the story this executive was producing a high-tech, whiz-bang, jazzed-up Christmas special to be aired on Christmas Eve. To get people’s attention, he promoted the upcoming special with an advertisement that was so frightening, it left his board of directors shaking in their seats after they previewed it. The ad featured startling images of nuclear holocaust, drive-by shootings, terrorist bombings, and meteors striking the earth. The ad’s tag line was something to the effect, “In a world as downright terrifying as this one, now more than ever you need to see this year’s Christmas Eve Spectacular right here on NBC. Don’t miss it–your life might just depend on it!” Well, of course, everyone hated the advertisement because for one thing it was so completely at odds with the holiday spirit and for another thing it would frighten children. 1
It’s for that reason that I decided to not change the name of our Christmas Eve Masses to the Christ Church Christmas Eve Spectacular and advertise those services with quotes from today’s Gospel reading. “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars,” Jesus tells us, “and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Maybe Bill Murray was unwittingly on to something in Scrooged: that you can’t have the Good News without the bad news.
The bad news started long ago. With Adam’s sin came death, and with sin and death came the fear of death and the loss of the fear of God. Two thousand years before Jesus was born, a man named Joseph was sold into slavery, ending up in Egypt. Joseph does well there and His people, the Hebrews, are saved by Joseph from certain death from famine, but they also end up as slaves in Egypt. But good news(!), Moses tells Pharaoh to what, “Let my people go,” and so the people Israel take off and become the nation of Israel. Moses tells the (now) Jews that things won’t always be great, but that God will send a savior, a Messiah, to save Israel. Over the next fourteen-hundred years, things were not always great. The Jews ran hot and cold with God, and they suffered for it. They were conquered, exiled, restored, exiled, restored, conquered, advanced, conquered, advanced, conquered, advanced, and conquered, this last time by the Romans. It was a tough couple of millennia. It wasn’t all bad news, but it was mostly bad news, and by the time most of us pick up the story of the Jewish people, about the year 5 B.C., many there had all but given up hope; Moses may have promised a savior, Isaiah a Messiah, but what good would a Messiah be anyway? What good news could he bring?
Now, I’m wearing purple in December, so it must be Advent. Two-thousand years since we left the story of the people Israel hanging, we have the benefit of history, the benefit of hopes realized, the benefit of a Child born who would not only bring good news, but be Good News. Advent is the way-too-short season the Church uses to wait again for the coming of the Messiah, to wait, in a way, with the Jews of Roman-occupied Palestine, to wait with them for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, who would free all of us from bondage. To wait for the One who would free us from sin and therefore free us from death, who would restore us to God.
It’s Advent, and so once again I will probably watch at least a portion of Bill Murray in Scrooged, since TNT will run it about a hundred times between now and Christmas. And when I do, I will think once again about how we begin Advent with a Gospel reading that doesn’t shy away from the grim realities of the world, a world still caught up in bad news. The good news here today is that, through Jesus, God has freed us not only from sin and death, but from the fear of sin and death; and now free from that fear, we can not only await the return of Christ with joyful expectation, but we can also let others know, by word and by deed, that there is hope, there is someone who not only brings good news but is Good News, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week