DJs’ Prank Call and Christmas

There’s a good chance that you are aware of the prank phone call made by Mel Greig and Michael Christian, hosts of the 2Day FMSydney,Australiaradio program. If you are not aware, here’s what happened. Catherine, the Duchess of York was hospitalized for illness related to her pregnancy. These two radio personalities called theLondonhospital, impersonating Queen Elizabeth and her son Prince Charles. A nurse took the call and transferred it to the ward where the Duchess was being treated. Information was shared about Catherine’s condition. In itself, this was bad enough, but a few days later, the nurse who patched the call through was found dead in her home of an apparent suicide. What began as dissent has now turned to outrage—the DJs have been removed from the air and criminal charges are being weighed.

For their part, Grieg and Christian have publicly and tearfully apologized, expressing regret and remorse for their actions. They have volunteered to meet with the nurse’s family if that would help them in their grief. At the same time, they did take the opportunity to make it clear that all they did was make the call and record the conversation; they did not have a say on whether it went on the air: that decision was made by their superiors.

Evidence points to a high degree of culpability on the station’s executives. After a particularly ugly prank in 2009, one of the station’s employees said that early in his career he was told by the program director to “do whatever you want, just win.” In the radio business, winning means listeners and listeners tend to be attracted to big, crazy, humorous-at-their-expense, outlandish behavior in order to make people aware of the station and hopefully, through this awareness, tune in.

Honestly, this is pretty standard fare for attracting human beings, which is what makes the events of Christ’s coming so surprising. People aren’t going to be interested in a kid who comes from a common, working-class family, who lives a common, working-class life, in a common, working-class town and gathers around himself common, working-class men. In the culture of our day (church culture included), we would think of a way to market the manger in order to attract as much attention as possible. We would figure out a PR strategy for getting the most mileage out of a child being born in these conditions because no one cared enough to give up their room. We would send press releases, create marketing strategies and promote this thing to the hilt…Oh, wait, we already do that, don’t we?

The birth of Jesus was never intended to be a media event. In fact, God’s plan did not involve fanfare or galas or publicity events; it was just a common birth in a common place to common people because that’s how God gets things done in this world. God steps into time and space the way he has always worked in the lives of people—through gentle, quiet, ordinary, patient acts of grace and mercy. He still does. I wonder how his gentle, quiet, ordinary patient acts might be speaking into your life and into mine.