Christmas Day ‘It’s About Time!’
December 25, 2021 Galatians 4:4
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
A small boy kept asking his dad to help him build a tree house in the backyard.
The man said he would ‘when he had the time.’ However, each time the boy asked, his dad was involved in /a business meeting, /a golf outing, /some chore around the house. One day the boy was hit by a car and in critical condition in the hospital. Sadly, as the man stood by his son’s bedside, the boy’s last words were, “Well, Daddy, I guess we’ll never get to build our tree house.” Of course, what the boy really wanted was the love & the time of his father.
In Jonathan Swift’s book – Gulliver’s Travels, written almost 300 years ago, Gulliver finds himself on an island inhabited by tiny Lilliputians. These small creatures notice that this giant Gulliver seldom did anything without consulting his pocket watch. It appeared -to them- that it was his oracle; his ‘god.’ It pointed out the time for every action of his life.
These are two examples of ‘time.’ We know time. We’re short on time; there’s never enough time; we run out of time. The wonderful news at Christmas-time is this: God is beyond time, and uses time for His eternal purposes.
In the beginning, God created time for us; we needed it. But often it controls us. Whether like the busy dad who ignored his son, or like Gulliver’s god who told him when to do things, our lives are focused on ‘time’ rather than the God behind time. It’s the same for all of us. ‘So many things to do; so little time.’
In Galatians 4 we heard: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son.” We should marvel at that phrase: “The fullness of time.” It means not too early, & not too late; just at the right time; the time was ‘full.’ It’s like when you’re extremely thirsty, and you’ve just poured yourself a tall glass of cool water. The water is at the top of the glass; It’s not running over, but there’s no room for more. The glass is full; it’s just right. *How was the time full when Jesus was born that first Christmas? And why did God-the-Father send God-the-Son at the time He did?
Over the years, Biblical scholars & historians have tried to unpack this ‘fullness of time’ phrase from Galatians 4. Here are a four of their ideas about that time in history.
#1: The conquests of Alexander the Great. This was Alexander III of Macedonia/or Greece, who conquered the Persian Empire. He became the ruler of all the civilized world of his day; 300 yrs before Christ. With the spread of his kingdom came the spread of his language = Greek. Soon, Greek was used as the common language, everywhere. And so, when Jesus came into the world, His Gospel could be taken into Spain, Egypt, Turkey or Italy and people could understand it. When the Holy Spirit had the Apostles & Evangelists write of Jesus in the NT, it was in Greek. The OT had already been translated into Greek in Alexander’s time. Surely the heavenly Father used Alexander’s kingdom to prepare the world for the Savior’s birth. It was the fullness of time.
#2: Roman unity. When Alexander The Great died, four of his generals battled for control; which meant wars & conflicts everywhere. But then, in 63 BC, control was won by the newest world power = Rome. For the sake of unity & control, the Roman Empire needed everyone to be counted by a census; and it was this census that brought Joseph & Mary to their ancestral town, Bethlehem. This fulfilled the promise of where the Messiah would be born.
In this flourishing Roman Empire, law & order ruled the land. The Romans were efficient & sometimes brutal, but very organized. There had never been such an extended period of world peace. It was called the Pax Romana = the Roman peace. Under this peace, Rome was pretty tolerant of different peoples & views. And so Jesus, and later the disciples in the book of Acts, could travel freely to spread the Gospel. Under pagan peace, Jesus could accomplish His three short years of ministry; and then The Spirit could move the Apostles to start new churches all over the Roman Empire. Surely the heavenly Father used Rome’s temporal peace to spread the news of His eternal peace. It was the fullness of time.
#3: The Roman roads. The emperor Caesar Augustus used the time of Roman peace, and commissioned workers to build a network of military roads from one end of the kingdom to the other. Some of these ancient roads are now Europe’s freeways. Those roads gave easier access to all areas of the empire for both military and commerce.
This enabled Joseph to transport Mary & the little Prince of Peace safely from Nazareth to Bethlehem; then over to Egypt, and back again to Nazareth.
And so those roads, built for a worldly kingdom, would be the pathways used by the thousands of pilgrims going to & from Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. That’s where they heard Peter & the disciples proclaiming God’s kingdom of peace in their own native tongue. Surely the heavenly Father used Roman roads for His purposes. It was the fullness of time.
And #4: The Hebrew dispersions. After the fall of Israel 581BC (which came before Alexander the Great), God’s people were scattered in & among the 3 main nations: Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. That’s what conquering nations did; they brought in the conquered to populate & assimilate people into their culture. When God’s people were in exile in various places, the way they kept their faith alive was to build synagogues for learning & worship. The word, synagogue, means ‘gathering together.’ Together, they studied the Hebrew Scriptures (the OT), and the hope of the coming Messiah was kept alive.
As you know, when Jesus began to preach & teach, He began in the synagogues. When the Apostles, including Paul, began to share the Gospel of the Messiah who had come, they could go into every nation and find open ears in the local synagogues. While the Jews had mourned that they were conquered & scattered, God used those conditions to help the spread
of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ and to plant the NT church everywhere. It was the fullness of time.
Now, let’s remember that God is above time. So, this phrase is always current and always good news for His people – no matter what year it is. It’s always the right time for God’s work of the good news going out into all the world. That’s because our loving God is the Lord over time & history. Our own times are in His almighty hands. That is the greatest comfort for you & me – in whatever times we face. If our heavenly Father can use the kingdoms & events of world history to accomplish His purposes, surely He can use the events in our lives today to care for us, and to accomplish His will for us.
That’s how we know Him to be: timely, mighty, & caring. Even when our fleshly eyes cannot see it, our spiritual eyes can see clearly: God is taking care of us. God’s lordship over time, and His timing in our lives, is for our good.
He is able to do this, because God is beyond time. St. Paul tells us, ‘While we were still weak & sinful, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.’ (Rom 5:6). Even before our time, our Heavenly Father was taking time for us. 2,000 years ago, the Son of God subjected Himself to the constraints of the clock & calendar to use a Roman cross to defeat sin, death & the devil. Long before we were a twinkle in the eye of our mother or father, He did that for us.
And who is US? We = who by nature, often do not take time for God; who are often too busy = not just for our own children, but for His child as well. We = who time & time-again rebel against Him. We = who deserve His anger; instead we receive His mercy & care.
God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.” (Is 54:8). This is the timeless message of Christmas!
The late radio personality Paul Harvey shared the following Christmas story. A family was all ready to leave the house for the evening Christmas worship. But then the father said, “I’m not going. It just doesn’t make any sense to me anymore, all this Christmas and Jesus. You and the kids go. I’m staying here.” Mother and children left. The man made a cup of tea. He sat in his living room chair, looking out the large window watching the blowing snow that had just begun.
Then he heard a loud thump, like something had been thrown against the window;
& then another thump. Aggravated, the man went outside to find the culprit. What he found were two small birds lying dead in the snow under the window. They had obviously been confused by the swirling snow, and drawn by the light, had flown blindly into the glass. Looking around, he could see a bunch of little birds in a small tree; it seemed to him they were going to take off any moment and make the same mistake.
“What are you doing?” he cried out toward the confused birds. He tried to scare them away by waving his arms, but they did nothing. He tried to coax them into his shed by opening the door & turning on the light; but they wouldn’t go in. He would’ve tried to lure them with a path of bread crumbs, but they would’ve blown away. He wanted to save the birds from death, but they couldn’t understand him. Then he heard another deadly thump. “What can I do to save you?” he said out loud.
And then he said, “If only I could become a bird I could lead you to safety; if I could become one of you, then you would understand, and I could save you.”
Suddenly, those words became his own little ‘fullness of time.’ At that moment, he understood why Jesus came to the world as a man; and why he & every human being needed the heavenly Savior. For unto us a child was born; and unto us a Son was given. The mighty God became a man to speak our language, and to personally lead us to safety. The Son of God is love’s pure light.
When the time was right, ‘in those days’, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And so all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. By God’s plan, Joseph went to his home town of Bethlehem, to be counted & taxed; taking along Mary, ‘his espoused wife, being great with child.’ By God’s promise, it was there that she ‘brought forth her firstborn son,’ and that’s how God came to be with us, to save us.
Christmas reminds us that God is the Lord of time. He uses time & history & the events of our lives for His good purposes. With Jesus, God has taken time for us. God’s Savior is the gift for all our times.