60 days after my last period and the day after I’d taken a home pregnancy test that gave me the blue plus sign, I called my OB/Gyn’s office. “I think I’m pregnant.”
The receptionist paused, and in a careful voice asked, “Is that good news or bad news?”
“Good news!” I said.
“Great!” I could hear the relief in her voice. “Then we’ll set you up for an appointment and start taking care of your baby.”
Over the years, her words have stayed with me. “Is it good news or bad news?” If it were bad news, the conversation would have veered in an entirely different direction, and I’m pretty sure my “baby” would have been called a fetus, or maybe not referred to at all.
2000+ years ago when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her she would conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High, Mary also seemed to struggle with whether his words were good news or bad news.
Gabriel assumes he’s bringing great news to Mary—what could be better news than hearing that God dwells with her and thinks she’s so amazing that He wants her to bear His son, a son who will rule over a kingdom that will never end? Mary’s people have been waiting over 400 years for God to show up, to speak again, and now she gets a personal message from God?!? Good news indeed!
Yet Mary’s response seems mixed—she responds with fear, with questioning, and greatly troubled feelings. This child may bring good news—even great news for her people and her world—but in the short run, there may not be much good news for her personally. Her fiancé Joseph’s going to have a hard time believing God got her pregnant and the stigma of being an unwed mother could last the rest of her life.
Sure enough, Joseph doesn’t respond well. He wakes up to find the woman he was planning to marry is pregnant, instantly making him the laughing stock of small town Nazareth. The Bible says, “Joseph was a man who always did what was right, but he did not want to disgrace Mary publicly; so he made plans to break the engagement privately. (Good News Translation)”
For Joseph, doing what was right meant leaving Mary but not calling for the Old Testament consequence for fornication—stoning.
Then God gives Joseph his own angelic visitor, who tells Joseph to reject fear, to marry Mary, and to trust in a higher purpose, for the son she carries will save his people from their sins.
Both Mary and Joseph respond with acceptance and obedience to the angelic messages promising goodness and suffering. Good news, blessing, God’s favor and promise all mixed up with fear, suffering and confusion at the same time.
I too often experience God coming into my life with those mixed emotions. Because when God shows up in my life, He messes things up—my neat plans and dreams, my status, my sense of self.
The birth of Ling-Ling, that child for whom I said her birth would be “good news,” was a case in point. I knew I wanted kids—wanted them more than a great career and outside acclaim despite my addictions to significance and achievement.
When she was born, my love for her swept me away. But that lioness mother love didn’t mitigate what felt like suffering: not sleeping more than 90 minutes for 8 straight months; saying no, and no, and no again to awesome professional opportunities for the next 16 years; the identity crisis that crashed onto me as my addictions weren’t fed, an identity crisis that reappeared with child #2, and then again with child #3.
My sufferings are small compared to Mary and Joseph running for their lives, hearing about the Slaughter of the Innocents they escaped, and living in Egypt as refugees. So far my sufferings are small compared to those suffered by Mary, who would eventually see the child that she carried for 9 months, birthed, raised and eventually followed, be whipped, humiliated, tortured and die. My sufferings are small, but they’re sufferings nevertheless, hardship in the midst of an overflow of blessings.
The tidings of an angel: good news and suffering; hope for the future and pain in the present. But always with an amazing promise, the promise Gabriel gave Mary—the promise of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. “God is with you and has greatly blessed you!”