By Tessa Thompson
The anesthesia had nearly worn off, and I slowly realized I was cold, in pain, and on a hospital stretcher ready to be transferred to the recovery room. Thankfully, I had the immediate comfort of my husband’s presence as I snapped back into reality, and he wasted no time filling me in on the results: “She was able to remove the tumor!” Just a couple hours earlier, I had put on a hospital gown, endured a few pricks and pills, and drifted off into dreamland, not knowing what outcome I’d face when I woke up. Would the surgeon be able to safely remove the tumor from the nerve without damaging it? That would be good news. Or would the surgeon realize, after making the incision and observing the tumor more closely, that it was too risky to take it out and I’d have to resign myself to a life of debilitating nerve pain? That would be bad news. In an answer to many, many prayers and out of His sheer goodness, God had provided me with a discerning surgeon who made a careful judgment and successfully detached the tumor. The days, weeks, and months to follow further confirmed the happy report: the surgery had nearly eradicated the nerve pain in my lower leg and my heating pad no longer needed a permanent home in the microwave.
It’s wonderful to receive good news. We rejoice over text messages that announce the safe arrival of a friend’s baby. We smile and breathe a sigh of relief when the bill comes in the mail and is lower than expected. We whisper a prayer of thanks when a potential relational conflict is easily cleared up and never becomes the disaster we envisioned.
Indeed, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Prov. 25:25). Whether it comes from a far country or a five-minute phone call, good news is a good and right reason to praise God.
But sometimes the news is bad.
Sometimes the baby is in critical condition in the NICU, the bill is more than expected, and the late-night meeting results in a discouraging turn of events or the sad termination of friendship.
I’ve received plenty of bad news over the course of my adult life, and it’s not enjoyable. But as I’ve walked through a variety of life experiences, I’ve come to realize that perhaps just as hard as receiving bad news, is the possibility of receiving bad news; sitting through that uncertain time period when I just want to know that everything is going to be okay, except it might not be and that makes me nervous.
Of course, we live in a fallen world of betrayal, bodily decay, and broken washing machines. We know that unwelcome circumstances are an inevitable part of life, and that thinking differently would only be naïve. But while we may not be tiptoeing around on eggshells expecting disaster to strike at any moment of the day, our minds perk up and our wheels start turning as soon as we find ourselves in a new situation that might not turn out the way we want it to. This could be as mundane as a Monday evening, when a tired mother finds herself thinking about taking her four kids to the dentist on Wednesday. What will the cavity tally be and is the bill going to add stress to my life?
We begin to imagine the various possible outcomes, which one would be the worst, how we would endure or fix it. And then we wait – oh, that dreaded wait – until we find out whether things are better (good news!) or worse (bad news) than we predicted. In the meantime, stress settles in, anxiety gets cozy, and peace is put on hold.
As November comes to an end and the familiar scenes of Christmas return, “peace” is a recurring theme. We sing about it in our favorite Christmas hymns and see the word two dozen times while perusing the Christmas décor at Hobby Lobby. And this word is appealing to us. We love the idea of a peaceful, perfectly planned holiday season in which the finances are in order, friendships feel stable, and the flu stays at bay. But we all know the truth: the Christmas cheer doesn’t automatically pause or fix the stresses and trials of life. The bad news (or the potential for it) and everything it entails does not kindly wait until January 2nd to show up. The pretty Christmas card says, “Peace on Earth,” but actually, it looks like World War III is going to break out any moment and my kids are throwing up two days before I host a Christmas party.
Could it be that we have the wrong idea of what “peace” is? We often equate the word with ease, lack of irritations and worries; in short, we equate it with a life of no bad news. And by December 21st , tired mamas everywhere equate it with twenty minutes of silence to eat a gingerbread cookie after the kids go to bed in matching Christmas pajamas.
But is this the “peace” Jesus came in the flesh to bring us? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with savoring the calm and quiet moments of the season—those moments are a gift from a gracious Father. But if our idea of a peace-filled holiday is equated merely with ease and lack of conflict, we will be rolling our eyes at that pretty Christmas card in no time.
Let us turn to the Christmas story to see whether our idea of peace is the same as God’s. When the angel appeared to the awestruck shepherds in the field, it announced: “Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior” (Luke 2:10-11). 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 those with whom he is pleased’” (vv. 13-14).
According to the angels, Christmas is all about celebrating good, joy-filled news and resting in the peace that news brings to God’s people.
So, what is this good news? A Savior. This account in Luke reminds us that, among the myriad of other good things we aim to enjoy over the holidays, there is one good thing that tops healthy children, strifeless gatherings, or any other wonderful thing that could happen to make our holiday season one of “great joy.” In the trenches of our hell-bound sin, we needed a Savior, and a Savior was given.
And this provision of a Savior brings with it peace. Notice the angels do not say, “and on earth ease among those with whom he is pleased” or “and on earth heaven among those with whom he is pleased.” So what is this peace our Savior brings us? Paul gives us a clue in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:1-2).
Through the life he lived and the death he died our Savior repaired the infinite breach that separated us from God. The charges have been dropped and the curtain that held us back has been torn. We now have daily, moment-by-moment access not only to the smile of God but also to his grace—a grace that steadies our knees and keeps weary pilgrims on the path to heaven. But why do we need this grace?
We need grace because, for a little while longer, we must wait “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…groaning together in the pains of childbirth…as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Rom. 5:19, 22-23).
We need grace because we have a now-and-not-yet salvation. In other words, this side of heaven is still full of bad news, from trivial traffic jam bad news to stage four diagnosis bad news and everything in between. It’s also full of possible bad news, and because of our limited knowledge, those possibilities threaten to paralyze us with discouragement and fear of what we might find right around the corner. We need a grace that boldly stares possibility in the face and declares, “That may happen, but I know something that will happen.” For in this hope—in this confident expectation—we were saved, that the Savior we’ve been given and the peace he has provided are working toward a sure and certain end in which there will be no bad news ever again. This indeed is good news of great joy.
What is your “good news of great joy” this season? What is the peace you ask or thank God for? That you stayed within your Christmas budget? That your difficult family member wasn’t able to make it to the gathering? That everything is going just fine, and the coming new year looks bright and sunny? Or are you rejoicing in the good news of a Savior who brought you peace with the God of heaven—a peace that puts you and keeps you on the path to glory?
We need not fear bad news, friends. And that’s not because there won’t be any, but because we already have the one piece of good news that keeps us plodding on, sometimes sorrowful and yet always rejoicing. May we never tire of pondering and praising God for it.
About the Author
Tessa Thompson is a pastor’s wife and mama to three boys. She lives in the greater Chattanooga area and is the author of Laughing at the Days to Come: Facing Present Trials and Future Uncertainties with Gospel Hope.