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The Right Time
Around Christmas time some cult groups, extreme Christian fringe groups and ultra-conservative Christians sometimes join forces to attack any observance of Christmas. They express their criticism against mainstream Christians for their endorsement of and involvement in supposed rituals of pagan origin. They will confuse some immature and naive people with references to Encyclopedia Britannica, and the like. Some will focus on the day of the month, as part of their criticism. The actual day or even month of Jesus earthly birth is not known — and by tradition has come to be celebrated at this time of the year. The date is not the most significant issue in relation to Christmas. Focussing on and arguing about dates will lead people to miss the reality and significance of God’s timing in the Incarnation.
The momentous event of the first Christmas was no accident — it was part of God’s plan for humanity, and it all happened at the right place, at the right time.
Note the words of the Apostle Paul:
GAL 4: 4 … when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, (5) to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
God’s timing is always right, and Paul clearly declares that God sent his son:
- When the right time came (TLB)
- When the right time finally came (TEV)
- When the time was right (CEV)
- When the fullness of the time was come (KJV)
- When the fullness of the time came (NASB)
- When the time had fully come (NIV)
- When the appointed time came (JB)
- When the appointed time arrived (Stern)
- When the term was completed (NEB)
The wording makes it clear that there had been anticipation and expectancy, as well as planning and preparation, behind this event. It didn’t come as a last minute, unplanned accidental thought. It wasn’t some desperate, final hectic attempt to rescue humanity. It was all part of God’s perfect timing.
To understand this, however, we have to unpackage Christmas from the ’Hallmark’ sweet sentimentality, the glitter, the commercialism, and the excuse for partying and holiday time-out.
Luke’s Gospel reveals that the immediate Christmas events began with the announcement of the pregnancy of the elderly Elizabeth and the coming of John the Baptist. He was to be something of a maverick, an eccentric loner who railed against the religious establishment and vigorously told everyone, regardless of station or status in society, to significantly change and improve their lifestyle or face God’s rejection. He was the one who would later prepare the way for Jesus.
After Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were told by a heavenly messenger of the approaching birth of their son, and what they were to name him, young Mary was next for the shock announcements.
Mary, probably still in her teens, a virgin, and betrothed to an older man, Joseph, was told, that like her relative Elizabeth, she too would be pregnant. In those days a betrothal was virtually a marriage that hadn’t quite been finalised and consummated. Luke’s Gospel tells us she was ’greatly troubled’ at the announcement. In other words, she was in serious shock. She knew enough about the ’birds and the bees’ — how babies came into being - and knew that she had not been unfaithful to Joseph, so a pregnancy wasn’t possible!! But she was assured that ’nothing is impossible with God’.
She wasn’t really too sure about that, but she believed in God, and was willing to be God’s servant. She then went and checked things out with her relative, Elizabeth — and the visit seemed to confirm that this had not all been some hallucinatory experience. Fine, but what about her fiancÃ©e, Joseph? And her family? And her other relatives? And all her friends and acquaintances in her home village? What about the general scandal all this could cause?
Joseph WAS scandalised! How could Mary have done this to him!?
Because of the kind of person Joseph was, and because he still deeply loved Mary, when he found out about her pregnancy he decided to secretly separate from her and do his best to shield her from public scorn. He had no desire to have her publicly stoned to death for apparent adultery.
Before he could formalise his secret separation from Mary, however, Joseph received a visit from the heavenly messenger and told NOT to go through with his planned separation! He was told that Mary’s pregnancy was not the result of her unfaithfulness and any sexual relations with any man. Rather, this was an extra-ordinary pregnancy brought about by the direct intervention of God’s Holy Spirit.
Though no fool, the down-to-earth village carpenter, believed and accepted the heavenly messenger’s explanation.
And both he and Mary were also prepared to obey the direction of naming the child — as had Zechariah and Elizabeth before them. In this case they were to name their son, ’Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
Christmas - the birth of Jesus — was God’s deliberate and planned intervention in human history in order to bring salvation to the people. This day was to be the day of salvation.
At the right time, God sent his son, born of a woman, for the redemption, the ’buying back’ (from the slavery and destructiveness of sin), of the people. Christ came to bring salvation — at a price! - a price that involved his identification with full human experience, ultimate rejection, death and resurrection. This is why Christmas and Easter must be seen together. Christ did NOT come to remain a baby in a sanitized manger! From his birth in filthy and noisy unhygienic conditions to his ignoble criminal’s tortured death on a cross to the victorious glory of his resurrection and ascension — Jesus came to bring us our day of salvation.
As Paul declared:
RO 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2CO 6:1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says,
“In the time of my favour I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.
Christmas came, at the right time, as the day of our salvation.
What if Jesus hadn’t been born until today? That would have been as bad is if he had never been born — and possibly he wouldn’t have been born — if it had all been timed for today.
As the iconoclastic Malcolm Muggeridge once pointed out:
’In humanistic times like ours, a contemporary virgin — assuming there are any such — would regard a message from the Angel Gabriel that she might expect to give birth to a son to be called the Son of the Highest as ill-tidings of great sorrow and a slur on the local family planning centre. As a matter of fact under existing conditions it is extremely improbable that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus our generation, needing a Saviour more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born; too enlightened to permit the Light of the World to shine in a darkness that grows ever more oppressive.’
(Jesus — The Man Who Lives, Fontana 1976, p.23f)
As a result of God’s timing, the coming of Jesus Christ occurred when his life, death, resurrection and teaching had maximum impact for all time.
Take a closer look at the significance of Christ’s Coming — the truth behind Christmas is all about bringing God’s day of salvation to the people of this planet. Now is the time to accept His timing and His day of salvation.
Now is a good time, the right time, to listen to Handel’s ’Messiah’ and to break out with the Hallelujah Chorus.
(From TACL Vol 24 #6 Nov/Dec 2003)