Galatians 4:4 “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
Some might be tempted to question Paul’s intelligence when he asserts, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” This was good timing? God chooses the ninth month of Mary’s pregnancy to coincide with a government mandated journey of over 100 miles, quite possibly made by this young couple on foot? I remember our family going camping just 25 miles from home when my mother was 8 months pregnant, and that was with all the modern amenities of travel by car. It may have been the low point of our camping experience. Jesus is born when the inns of Bethlehem are filled to overflowing because of the census, and Joseph, who as a carpenter could otherwise provide for his family reasonably well, is forced to take his wife to a stinking shelter for animals for labor and delivery? There is no doctor or mid-wife to assist? What does a carpenter know about these things? Perhaps we could forgive Mary and Joseph if God’s timing seemed a little less than “full” to them.
Then we remember that when God sent us his own Son, he sent him on a mission, with a purpose. Over the centuries the Lord had made dozens of prophecies in anticipation of this birth. As the years rolled along, he quietly drove the course of history so that one by one these prophecies could be fulfilled. In fact, this little excursion to Bethlehem neatly fulfilled one of the promises God had made about location of his Son’s birth. “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).
When we look beyond this little family, what about the timing for the nation of Israel, or for the greater world around it? Politically and spiritually, Israel was at another low ebb in its history. The nation had lost its independence to the Empire of Rome, and for all practical purposes the throne of David had disappeared. There was still a little remnant of true believers in God’s promises of a Savior from sin, but in the hearts of most there was a full scale rebellion going on. It showed itself in a religious formalism: going through the motions of their faith in an outward way for traditional reasons. They looked pious on the outside, but there was no love and no sense of need for God within. In others it showed itself in a general disinterest in the faith and slide into immorality. Does this seem like a strange place for God to send his Son? Does one send a baby to quell a rebellion?
But then we remember that God sent us his own Son on a mission, not to save the state of Israel from the shame of political insignificance and foreign control, but to save the people of Israel, and the people of all the world, from the shame of sin and unbelief. Roman roads and the law and order that the empire maintained were superior ways for taking Jesus’ message of faith to the world. And the work of a Savior is not to congratulate the spiritually strong, but to heal the spiritually wounded, strengthen the spiritually weak, and to raise the spiritually dead. What better time for the doctor to arrive than when the waiting room is full? When God sent us his own Son, the time had fully come.
Does God’s sense of timing at Christmas offer us any comfort today? This past year has seen more than its share of troubles: terrorist attacks and mass shootings, celebrity scandals, political unrest, the threat of war, and the countless daily irritations with which we have had to contend. Is anyone running this show? Why this? Why now?
Then we remember that the one who sent us his own Son has a plan and a purpose for each of us. Ultimately that plan has less to do with making us comfortable here than it has to do with getting us out of here. From where we stand, we do not share God’s perspective, his long range view, and his timing is difficult to understand. When we get the pieces of the puzzle that makes up our lives one at a time, we cannot see the completed picture on the box our Lord is looking at. But then among the many other promises of Christmas we find this one: God doesn’t sit in heaven waiting for things to fall into place, hoping he will find just the right situation to carry out his plans. He drove the course of history for thousands of years, he directed the rise and fall of entire empires, to make sure that the setting into which he sent his Son to save us was just right. He who so loves us, who worked so hard and labored so long to save us from our sins, continues to direct the times and events that work toward our salvation today.