Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 3. The Right Time
Gal 4:4 when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,
There are indicators in the New Testament, that God’s timing for the coming of His Son was precise, there was no mistake about it. The Message version has our verse above as, “when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son,” and the Living Bible puts it, “when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son,” and the same thought comes through – there was no mistake about God’s timing. There are other indicators around the New Testament.
Pastor, teacher and evangelist, Michael Green, in his book, “Evangelism in the Early Church” suggests there were a number of very specific and very practical reasons why Jesus and the start of the Christian faith came at this specific time in history. This, in itself, is a contributory factor in being able to say that this was no made up, fairy story; these were events in time-space history, events that perfectly fitted in the records of history that we have subsequent to that time. Luke pounds us with this historical foundation in his Gospel: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)” (Lk 2:1,2) and then a bit later: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” (Lk 3:1) Historical events, historical people.
Now all this is very well from an intellectual point of view but if your names were Mary and Joseph you might not be quite so happy with this, because as we’ve seen before, “Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” (Lk 2:4,5) Mary is expecting but she and Joseph now have to travel many miles to register their names in his family’s town, Bethlehem, purely at the whim of an emperor who had nothing better to do that show what a great empire he had. Forget the individuals, forget the discomfort and upset he may be causing many of his subjects.
So, as far as the big picture is concerned, it is just the right time; as far as Mary and Joseph are concerned, it is definitely not! Now here’s the point I would like to make here: we may have relegated the Nativity to the realms of fairy story, folk-lore, or children’s play level, but the details of the story include many profound lessons. In what we have seen here, the main lesson is that God is never casual about timing and does things exactly so they fit the overall big plan. The secondary lesson is that when we look at our own individual personal circumstances we may not see how the circumstances are right for they may appear thoroughly inconvenient to us.
When we look at the Christmas story as it appears in both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, it is the story of God but a story that involves people and from their perspective things ‘just happen’ apparently without rhyme or reason. That is so often how it appears at the moment. So this is very real ‘where the rubber hits the road’ of practical reality. It is like it is because God who knows everything doesn’t share that ‘everything’ with us because we probably wouldn’t understand it or even believe it if He did. The underlying message of this story is that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7) So often we have to trust God with only partial understanding and we’ll have a look at that faith part a bit more in the next study. In the meantime, can we pray, “Lord open my eyes to understand the times and until I do, help me to simply trust you with what comes along.”