Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

News alert

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 15, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Some of us are old enough to remember the advent of television. After spending the typical hour or more adjusting the set to the “test pattern,” family, friends, and the occasional stranger would gather before sets to watch such exciting programs as Howdy-Doody, Ed Sullivan, Bishop Sheen and, of course, the critically important Saturday afternoon (real) wrestling matches with Gorgeous George.

In those days, television was very simple. No wonder, then, that when a somber voice announced, “We interrupt this program to bring you this important news bulletin!” the words had the effect of stopping one’s train of thought, calling attention to something of great importance.

How different it is nowadays.

One evening this past week, while watching a single news channel (named after some forest animal), I counted 18 interruptions of a single program with the red flashing News Alert! symbol and accompanying computer-generated racket. Did I gasp each time and await the news with bated breath? No. The more frequently these news flashes appeared (typical of this particular channel), the less was their impact. There was no discrimination between a lost child at the LA airport and freezing temperatures expected in Chicago.

Really, does every wisp of the wind, court decision or politician’s prattle merit the attention-getting “News Alert!” blast? Getting used to seeing these words diminishes their ability to raise the adrenaline or focus attention. The result: a ho-hum attitude toward whatever is announced, regardless how important, in fact, it is. The over-use of “News Alert!” in this and multiple similar fashions by other networks has dulled our sensitivity and perspective.

Look at the competition our culture presents to us Christians as we prepare once again for the genuinely exciting News Alert that we are about to celebrate: the Birth of our Savior.

Unfortunately, we may have heard this news so often that perhaps our attitude toward it, too, has become ho-hum and commonplace. With shopper’s panic, we may count the days until Dec. 25 or feel the social pressures of this season and yet not give much passing thought to the significance of the Great Feast we so lavishly prepare to celebrate.

The Gospel proclamation of our Savior’s Birth is designed to be the announcement of momentous news. The very word “gospel” communicates a sense of one having news about human events which is welcome news on the part of its hearers. It is good for them. Conjure up, if you would, the image of a town crier who stands in the local mall announcing the victory of the King’s army over his enemies – and that the security of the city is assured! The Gospel announced by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John stands in the middle of humanity, as it were, announcing God’s victory over selfishness and sin – and, above all, that we are safe from the wrath of an unknown and vengeful God. Had there been television sets in the first century, NEWS ALERT! would have flashed excitedly over television screens from one end of the earth to the other.

Is the fact of God’s becoming flesh good news for us, or bad? The nature of news – even the hourly television news – is that it makes a difference in our lives. Without this gift of God’s very self, his Word, in human history, where would we human beings be? What would anchor us in our search for ourselves and life’s destiny?

The words to a beautiful Christmas carol capture the impact of the Good News announced now to the world for two millennia: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining ‘til he appeared and the earth felt its worth! A thrill of hope! The weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn! Fall on your knees! O hear the angels’ voices! O Holy Night!”

Yes, unfortunately, we perhaps have heard the Good News so often that its impact escapes us. We can indeed engage in the frantic cultural celebration of Christmas (even within the ritual and song of church celebrations) and miss the excitement and life-changing power of the Gospel.

Christmas is not the celebration of what we have organized as a spending frenzy or a “holiday” break from school and normal business operations. Christmas is the celebration of the Good News of our salvation: the fact that God so loves the world that he sent his very Son to open for us the way to full and everlasting life.

This amazing recognition of what God has done for us in the One born of Mary in Bethlehem even makes us free to reject it if we want, and to engage in the great pretense that we do not even need God in our lives. We, the masters of technology, can save ourselves. Or so we think.

Given the way that cultural trappings have diverted Christmas from the heart of Christians, it takes a special effort to embrace the message of Christmas. All true believers have an uphill battle when it comes to communicating the true reason for this season. It is a mistake to assume that the surrounding culture or the commercial world will do that for us Christians. Having a sales clerk wish us a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” is not the answer.

Unless we ourselves find ways to break into the flow of cultural consciousness this time of year, the Gospel will remain a mere element of curiosity in competition with department store sales and other major commercial efforts to focus the heart on buying and getting. We Christians cannot blame the commercial world for corrupting the spirit of Christmas. Christians may have let it happen because we ourselves, the shoppers and buyers, have lost touch with the amazing news that still seeks to break into our lives and lift our hearts in thankful praise. Of all peoples on the face of the earth, we should be the ones who truly do have a News Alert! to share!

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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