Bad Tidings of Great Pain

"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10-11

I saw two movies this past weekend—the second weekend of Advent. They were The Messenger (dir. Oren Moverman) and Up in the Air (dir. Jason Reitman). Both films are winning awards right and left this season, but that’s not the only thing they have in common. Both films focus upon the unfortunate task of bearing bad news.

In The Messenger, Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster play a pair of U.S. Army officers recently back from combat who are assigned to the Army’s Casualty Notification service. They bring the death notifications to the fallen soldiers’ next of kin. It’s a horrible job, but somebody’s got to do it.

In Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a seasoned professional “terminator”—hired to fire employees for bosses too chicken to do it themselves. In the film, Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, partners with an intrepid young “terminating engineer” named Natalie (Anna Kendrick), and the two spend their days flying from city to city, leaving a trail of the devastated and newly unemployed in their wake.

Both films are about the tidings of bad news… news of the death of a loved one, news of the end of employment. It made me think about how utterly prevalent bad news is in our world. Our lives are so marked by disappointment and discouragement. The world is so abuzz with the communication of negative messengers. Whether it’s as direct as bringing a death notice to a next of kin or as subliminal as a clothing advertisement communicating the unimpressive flabbiness of any non-model’s body, negative news is not hard to find.

Here we are at the end of 2009—at the end of the first decade of the 21st century—and what is it we remember? 9/11? Katrina? Iraq? Afghanistan? It’s almost all negative. Turn on the news and what do we see? Glenn Beck bitching about healthcare? Keith Olbermann moaning about Sarah Palin? More bad economic news? New Tiger Woods mistresses? There’s hardly anything encouraging coming in to our ears.

That’s why Advent—that’s why Luke 2:10—rings out with such startling power.

“I bring you good tidings of great joy,” said the angel to the shepherds, “which shall be to all people.”

ALL people. GOOD news. GREAT joy. And it wasn’t just a toothless platitude. It was legit. The best news the world ever received.

As I ponder the painful process that is the bearing (and receiving) of bad news, I’m heartened by the reality that Christ has come, and he’s overcome the world. Joy has won. Good news will overcome.

I’m also challenged, as a Christian, to not contribute to the chorus of complaining and to not get caught up in the endless stream of negative messaging. Rather, I want to spread the good news—the Gospel—which is ultimately the only thing that will pull us out of this quagmire of nature and negativity.

A Savior has come to rescue us, in the midst of our cancer and credit card debt, popstar Propofol  overdoses, swine flu fears and VMA rants. In the middle of our moaning for more love and aching for less pain, a little baby came and funneled it all toward a singular point in the heavens. A star that represented hope.

Joy to the world indeed.