Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Fullness of Time

This Advent, the small group I attend is going through a few Christmas hymns, breaking them apart and looking at the Scripture they reflect. Last night we looked at O Little Town of Bethlehem. As with most Christmas carols, it is easy to love the song and the tune and look past the actual words.

Here is the first verse:

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

From this verse, we asked a lot of questions, but the biggest one was, Why did God choose Bethlehem? It's just a simple, rural town? The importance of place seems to lie with its insignificance. The prophet Micah thought so:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. -Micah 5:2
The last phrase of this song is most interesting. "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." It conjures up images of a family sitting together, looking whimsically looking at a Christmas tree, but it is so much more than that. When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, God said to the Serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15) Thus God set the ball rolling for the advent of the Messiah.

Why did He wait thousands of years to come? Why did each generation think they were the ones who would see God's Redemption? We will never know fully, but in Galatians, Paul says, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law . . ." (Galatians 4:4-5). I love that image of "the fullness of time." God, standing and operating outside of human time, established the exact time when He would send His son. Israel had hoped and feared through many thousands of years before Jesus was born. But unlike so many babies born each day, Jesus was special. He is the one in whom all our hopes and fears are met. He came, sinless, to take on sin "so that we might become the righteousness of God." (1 Corinthians 5:21)

God's timing is not our timing. It is not based on circumstances and moments, but divine wisdom and grace. The Lord was not deaf to His people's cries, but actively orchestrating His story so that when the "fullness of time" came, the stage would be set; all the characters and scenery in place. And the angels said,

“Glory to God in the highest,
   and on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
(Luke 2:14)

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