I’ve been radicalized to believe that “good news of great joy that will be for all people” is actually true.
That what God wants to do in the world and for the world is truly good. For everyone.
Too often we hear only good news for me and people like me. Good news for those who toe the party line. Or behave. Or those who believe the right things (read: agree with my narrow theological interpretation).
Which often means bad news for those unlike me. And those who interpret the Bible differently. Or doubt. Or behave in ways I don’t. Or don’t fit my preconceived ideas. Or subscribe to another or no faith.
Those of us who believe the story of the first Christmas should ask ourselves, were the angels lying or being hyperbolic when they said it was good news for everybody?
Or when the prophet Isaiah said God will prepare a feast for “all people” and swallow up death and wipe away tears from “all faces,” do you think he actually meant… all the faces?
Or when God told Abram that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” or when the Psalmist wrote “Every part of the earth will remember” and “every family among all the nations” will praise God, was that accurate? When John the Revelator sees every tribe and tongue or says “All nations will come” to give God praise, is that not real?
There are certainly places in Scripture where God showing up sounds like bad news. Where people experience judgement and get what is coming to them. Even in the Christmas story Mary says God “pulls down the powerful” and “sends the rich away empty handed,” which doesn’t sound all that great for them. I could easily compile other examples to say the exact opposite of what I am trying to say.
The question is, which version of events do I believe? Which do I hope for? Which one do I live toward? And which one looks most like the God revealed in Jesus?
What I believe God wants and who I believe God loves and how I believe God works and where I think this world is heading impacts my attitudes, politics, church, spending, biases, and all the other things. In the (fantastic) book Everything Sad is Untrue, Daniel Nayeri says, “What you believe about the future will change how you live in the present.”
Do I believe in a future that is good for all creation? Do I even want to believe in something like that? Can I trust in the goodness of God and rest in the mystery that with justice and grace everything is being made new?
If I can’t, perhaps I become more prejudiced and circle the wagons and view others with suspicion and look down my nose in judgement at those not like me. Maybe I build bigger walls and drop bigger bombs and draw harder lines. Perhaps I announce, in word or deed, bad news for anyone not on my team or anyone who doesn’t look, act, or believe like me.
However, if I see God’s coming as life giving and redeeming for the whole world, if I’m bent toward “good news of great joy for all people,” I will at least find myself walking the path of Jesus, who models again and again the expansive love of God. For lepers and tax cheats and prostitutes and criminals. For zealots and religious leaders and the demon possessed and the pushed to the margins. For insiders and outsiders, foreigners and skeptics, those making a mess and those on whom the mess has spilled.
Perhaps in walking the way with Jesus and longing for the Kingdom of God to be made real everywhere and for everyone, I find myself experiencing things like hope, peace, joy, and love. Perhaps it allows me to drop my defenses and the need for control and the anxiety inducing habit of trying to convince everyone to do and believe what I do and believe. And, just maybe, it makes it harder and harder to exclude anyone, even my enemies.
Perhaps this is when I am most Christlike. And where I find freedom and transformation and salvation.
Good news. Great joy. All people.
Could it be that simple?
In his book Nayeri also says, “Maybe we get the endings we deserve. Or maybe we get the endings we practice.”
What if that is the truth? And what if we and our neighbors actually deserve good? And what if we practiced wiping the tears from all faces and throwing the most inclusive feasts and inviting all the people and offering extravagant amounts of mercy and grace and then in the end find we have practiced our way right into the world of God’s dreams?
What if what happens at Christmas is an invitation to believe that all will be made right? That God is really, truly with us and for us. That everything sad is untrue and the worst things will not be the last things?
And what if that is the message the angels want the shepherds and townsfolk and pagans and religious elite and screw ups and put together and doubters and weepers and burned out and smug and oppressed and kings to really hear?
May we be captured by the deep and real good news of Christmas. May our dreams for the world align with God’s. May all people, all of em’, find exactly everything they possibly need to belong, flourish, and have abundant life. And may we hope and practice for the day when all things will be made right.