A Reporter's Day Off
What's it like trying to get a new angle on an old report? What's it like trying to find any news in an over-familiar event? What's it like if you're a reporter and you've got that beat? Maybe you take the day off. Let others do what they want or can.
With this in mind, Sam kicked back his chair, lit up his pipe, and pulled out a pad and a couple books.
He tricked himself. One of the books contained the report — his assignment. He read the account as carefully as he could.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. An d she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths,and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
He put the book away and tried to think about the story. He wanted a question. Something new that would catch his attention and interest him. Something he could make of this too familiar information. Some news. Something that would satisfy the boss and not ruin his own reputation.
"I mean, what are the odds of my finding anything new? Think of the billions of times this report has been read and the millions of times it has been analyzed, interpreted, and retold. Think of the great minds who have done it: Augustine, Origen, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianzus, others of whom my ignorance reveals how ignorant I am," he said humbly to his girlfriend, Sue.
She commiserated with him. She was a very philosophical person. She understood the impossibility.
"What right have you anyway, Sam," she asked, "to begin to interpret this story without first learning Greek?- at least that."
"Well, I could read what some good commentators say that the Greek says. Sometimes those guys can give a person an idea," said Sam thoughtfully, not sure whether he really would look up anything.
"If the story itself — simply and accurately told and carefully translated with the use of the most rigorous linguistic and textual critical tools — can't give me something fresh, what can I hope to get from all those pages? At least I can read the complete story from beginning to end. Who knows the end of all those commentators?"
"Sam!" said Sue, chiding him, "We are lucky to have the shoulders of all those scholars to stand on. Be grateful!"
Sam laughed. He knew he should be grateful and he didn't want to get caught on the wrong side of tha issue — especially since All-Saints Sunday was so recently past. Still, he thought of the good words of the best. Persons who had challenged the readers to read for themselves — Kierkegaard in For Self-Examination and Karl Barth in one of the prefaces to Romans.
"The point is," said Sam, "that my story should be fresh."
"Fat chance of that," said Sam's nephew, Joe, as he walked through the kitchen.
"There is something in the fact that the shepherds are outside," Sam continued." You have to be outside to really see what's going on. Also, the fact that there were shepherds out in the open meant that civilization was pretty firm. The people were pretty safe. That's nice to know, you see, since we want everything to go well for the baby that we know is being born — which the shepherds don't know yet. Come to think of it, the fact is that the shepherds knew about Jesus' birth before we did or do as persons, but, as readers of the story, we know more than the shepherds and we know it before they do."
"So what?" asked Joe, who was listening from the back room. "They got all they could handle that night. They had a visitation from angels."
Sam busied himself with other things. He tried to forget the story, but he couldn't get it out of his mind.
Sam had read the story this morning. He felt he had noticed something and that reading it seemed to be of value, but he had not made any notes. He couldn't remember what he had thought about. "Oh yes, the shepherds," he remembered. "This is the shepherds' story. Maybe there is some news in what the shepherds didn't know. Some news for me at least," thought Sam.
"What do I mean? you ask," he continued aloud to himself. "I mean that the shepherds knew no church history or dogma or doctrine. They probably knew very little about world affairs either. For that matter, Mary herself knew very little. She was 14 years old according to Luther. However, I best be careful here," thought Sam, "She might have been an extraordinarily bright child. She might have been raised in a rabbi's family. Nevertheless, no matter how bright, she was ignorant of church history — of bishops and canons and gospels. She sensed how much she did not know. Amidst all the joy and jubilation, she was aware of how much is mystery. So, she took it all in and pondered it in her heart."
"That's interesting, but do you call that a news story?" asked Joe who couldn't help hearing the monologue.
With that Sam did give up. "Better a live dog than a dead lion," he thought, remembering his brother's frequent saying.