I grew up with my grandparents’ mobile home within a stone’s throw of my own mobile home. Besides an old worn-down house we called the old house, which my great grandfather used to live in, they were the only homes within miles. Our two mobile homes sat on the 175 acres Popaw had bought when he returned home after his military service. For some reason it’s tradition in that part of Mississippi to spend all your money on as much land as possible and then none on your house; a strange thing to do maybe, but that’s just tradition.
Especially during the summers when I was not in school, there was lots of walking back and forth from one mobile home to the other for this reason or for that. When it wasn’t too hot out, my grandfather would sit in a lawn chair just under a tree at the east corner of his mobile home and read either a western novel or the Reader’s Digest. Just about every day I would pass him on my way to see if my uncle James would want to go out exploring on the land with me. That was tradition too. 175 acres seems like a whole country when you are young. Popaw would remind us to check the fences, and we would throw watermelon rinds to the horses and walk following the streams and the tractor paths, and the dogs would chase deer, and that was our summer.
But I was not allowed to go out on the land alone, so James had to go with me. So I had to go collect him and, on the way by, Popaw he would always say, “What’s the word?” by which he meant, what’s the news, what’s going on. I would always say, going to get James, and he would nod his head and go back to his reading.
Thinking back on his question, I’m sure that he probably knew that there wasn’t going to be any news. At least in my memory, those years seem to be unchanging. There was hardly ever any news and that was the way everyone seemed to like it. So few cars came down our dirt road with no name that when we heard the rumble of a vehicle a mile off, we would go open the door or go to the window to identify the vehicle. If it wasn’t the mail carrier, it was usually old Mr. Corley going to check his cows, which he kept over by old Carrollton Road.
The dogs could recognize an unfamiliar vehicle by the way it rumbled on the ground and would be ready and would chase it barking until they were satisfied they had protected the property. My mother might bring some news home with her from her job as a waitress, but usually that news was not much and rather unchanging as well. No news is good news was a saying that my family surely believed in.
I was probably 12 when we had our first telephones installed, and my mother was so excited. But ever after that, whenever it would ring, the whole household would jump up in terror at the prospect that there might be some news on the other end to intrude upon our peace.
I’d like to think that I carry a little of that time and place with me, but I have certainly seen and learned that the rest of the world does not move at the same pace as that place we called the hill in Carroll County. There are more people to care about now; and that’s a good thing, but that means more news. And more news coming quicker. As Ferris Bueller once said, life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in awhile you could miss it.
Some days, things seem to change so quickly that one just hopes for two or three days in a row when nothing changes. There are changes in the news out in the world and in our own country. There are changes in our families, some for the better and some for the worse.
If you are like me, and I bet you are, you can have some days that seem like a pandemonium. That’s one of my favorite words. I went to my thesaurus again; it means bedlam, chaos, mayhem, uproar, turmoil, tumult, commotion, confusion, anarchy, furor, and hubbub. It was a word invented by Milton in 1667 in Paradise Lost to describe the imagined place of all demons, the pan demonium, and the clamor and chaos which must define such a place, and on some days does a pretty good job of defining our lives.
When I come home, I don’t have to ask if the kids have been good. I can look at my wife’s face and tell how they’ve been. And some days it has been a pandemonium. Being a mother can be chaotic; and a father, we find chaos at our jobs, we find chaos on our Facebook notifications and on our twitter feeds.
So what is the word, what is the news, as my grandfather would say? It’s a good question for us to ask ourselves because there is a lot of news to pick from.
When St. John begins his gospel, he has to ask himself that question. He has to ask himself, what is this news that I am trying to convey. What is the story? The other gospel authors answered the question differently, though just as rightly. For Mark the story begins with the ministry of John the Baptist preparing the way for the Christ, and is quickly followed by his baptism, temptation, and the beginning of his ministry. Luke backs up further to tell the story of the birth of John the Baptist and his being dumbstruck for not believing the words of an angel. Matthew backs up further than that and begins with a genealogy going back to the father of the nation, the one to whom God made the promises and the covenant, Abraham.
But John wants to say something else. In the light of his reflection on this Jesus, the Christ, he wants to go back to the beginning. He wants to show that this news about Jesus Christ, is not only the most important news, but is something that is untouched, that is above the chaos and ups and downs of history. Though this birth, life, and death were deeply rooted in history, this Jesus is part of something bigger. He was, and is, the Word that became flesh and lived among us. He reveals the God whom no one has ever seen. In the beginning, the very beginning, before any other beginnings, was the Word. Jesus is the news of all news because he is the center of God’s plan for all creation. As the Word, it is Jesus that gives us a window onto the truth. Not all of the little truths that can so gain our attention, but Truth with a capital T. It is Jesus that tells us about the nature of God and how he has chosen to relate to us his people. And if this Jesus is the Truth about the world and about life, then that helps us to put all other truths in perspective. This news gives us the ability to put all other news in perspective. Because we can let our lives be defined by pandemonium, and we can suffer for that decision. Or we can choose the source of our news wisely.
The dogs on the hill are the replacements of the ones I used to run with. They do not know me; my vehicle is among those they chase. Popaw went on to be with the Lord when I was 18. Now not even the tree he used to sit under is still standing; things do change. But I like to wonder on the perspective he has now gained, which must be far better than any at which I can arrive. What’s the word, the most important word? Well, that must be that Jesus is Lord and that he loves us. May that news, that good news, be our guiding joy in this new year, and may our faith, which is rooted in God who is above and beyond all the ups and downs of history, bring us the stillness and peace that we need to thrive and to do God’s will.