We often talk about the gospel message–the teachings of Jesus and the salvation that is made known through his death and resurrection as Good News. Those words are familiar as they are announced by the angel to the shepherds in Luke’s accounting of Jesus’ birth: “I am bringing good news of great joy…”
However, when we read Matthew’s account of the Nativity, we realize not everyone experienced Jesus’ coming as good news. For King Herod, who held political power, the birth of a new king was not good news, it was a threat.
For the religious elite–those who thought they had everything figured out and believed they were in with God–the upside-down message that everyone could be part of God’s kingdom was not good news.
One fall a number of years ago, I attended a retreat led by Pastor Elaine Maust. Her theme for the weekend was on gratitude, and she began our time together by saying, “When you ask people to tell you about the thing they are most grateful for, most often they start by telling you about the worst thing that has ever happened to them.“
A strange and startling premise indeed.
We think of the “good news” and picture a peaceful Nativity scene. We think of people coming together in great joy. We think of being chosen, of miracles, of angels. But the Messiah’s arrival, a newborn king, an upside down kingdom–these things are only good news if you are oppressed.
The truth in this familiar Christmas story is that many of the people who are part of bringing good news found themselves in the middle of the worst things that could happen to someone.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless yet barren. For them, being childless was one of the worst things that could happen to them. And yet, without that, the angel’s announcement and the miracle of John’s birth would not have shimmered in the way it did.
For Joseph, to find out the woman he was engaged to was pregnant likely felt like a huge betrayal. One of the worst things that could happen to him. The person he was going to partner with was now unfit by his cultural standards and expectations.
Mary, in saying yes to the divine invitation, blew up the life she had planned for herself. She risked her betrothal to Joseph. She risked her reputation. She risked her future. Likely she risked her very life.
Joseph and Mary traveled together in the late stages of pregnancy, then gave birth with nothing but a manger. Soon after it became clear that Jesus’ life was in danger, causing the family to flee to Egypt.
All of these things may have felt, at least at some moments of great fear and uncertainty, like the worst thing that could happen.
In trying to be faithful to God, even with the guidance and assurance of angels, things were still difficult, fear inducing at times. There was upheaval and imperfection, and yet it was in the midst of all this that they were able to participate in the greatest opportunity of their lives–they experienced Good News.
As you hear familiar words of Scripture told and retold over this Christmas time–When there are moments of disappointment or grief in the midst of your holly jolly and merry and bright, may you remember that Good News is only good news to those in need.
May you remember that the first to hear and know the truth of God’s incarnation were those on the margins, those doing the grunt work, those pulling the night shift.
The best gift, the gift of Christmas is that of incarnation, of Immanuel, of God with us.
No matter what we face. No matter the pain or disappointment, the level of pain or catastrophic loss, God is with us and the hope and promise of the Good News is that the best things in our lives can come from the worst.
In the words of Isaiah–a shoot shall come out of the stump.
From what has been cut off, from what is broken, discarded, forgotten; hope, possibility and new life springs forth. Thanks be to God.
Ordained Minister + Spiritual Director
Mennonite Women USA values what all women have to say and Women's Voices blog is a space to honor their words. Entries are reviewed for tolerance and respect but don't necessarily reflect MW USA's official position.