Christmas Lesson No. 1

I’m presently sitting at home in our ‘Christmas room.’ It’s our family room that Keri has nicely decorated for Christmas—a brightly lit and richly decorated Christmas tree, stockings hanging over the fireplace, several manger scenes, bows and ribbons garnishing lamps and candles, miniature Christmas carolers silent but scenic, a pinecone wreath, red candles, hollow Christmas books containing a small treat for the grandkids each time they come over, Christmas blankets, Christmas music playing, even Christmas Kleenex.
I love sitting in this cozy Christmas place each December. But this year is strangely different. I’m sitting in the Christmas room on this Sunday morning when I’d usually be in church teaching our Pathfinders ABF. Earlier this week, after working at a local hospital several days in a row in the Intensive Care Unit, Keri remarked that in all her 40 years of nursing she’s never seen the continual inflow of very sick patients, well past the point of having beds and staff to care properly for everyone.
In Keri and my life-times we have never known anything like this. We weren’t old enough to know the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918, the Great Depression of the 1930s, or the shortages and sacrifices of World War II in the 1940s.
The kinds of changes the pandemic has brought are somewhat familiar now, but kind of like wearing a shoe on the wrong foot. It still seems all wrong and the fit uncomfortable. Seeing alarm in people’s eyes if passing too closely, teaching at the seminary in rooms with no students in them (all remote), remaining away from friends and family at retirement homes—some in their last days.
Add a tumultuous election, social unrest, economic upheaval for many and savage wildfires, this year has been a challenge, making the familiar unfamiliar, replacing peace with worry, joy with sadness, and good will with suspicion.
The Christmas Season is a good time to remind ourselves that God is undeterred by such seismic societal and natural disruptions. Christmas is about a divine work that has been planned for the ages that the instability of life in this world cannot alter. It is secure, rock solid, dependable.
I’d like to take these three weeks to look into this more through the window of Galatians 4:4-5.
Such social and natural upheavals are systemic to living in this fallen world. Yet within this environment, Galatians 4:4 begins, but when the fullness of time had come. The idea is, ‘when everything was ready.’ The tempest of human sin and global evil was a non-factor in affecting its timing. God didn’t have to beat it first so he could bring about his redemptive plan. It was all on God’s terms, not ‘a break in the weather.’
It could be likened to our house on Christmas day. We have many fun traditions that we’ve been doing as a family for nearly as long as I can remember. Christmas is an all-day affair, that includes eating and opening of gifts (not that there are so many gifts to open, but that the opening of them is spread out well into the day). There is a lot of preparation that goes into it (and much that I don’t know about that my dear wife takes care of each year!), that if all goes well is completed when family arrives.
At this point, ‘all is ready.’
And so it was for the Father and Son as we celebrate on Christmas morning. At the time of Mary’s conception in the womb a major change occurred in heaven, a change that I can’t begin to fathom. The Father and Son had enjoyed fellowship together for eternity. Yet at that moment, Jesus became a fertilized egg starting the 9-month gestation process in Mary’s womb. In his willingness to accept human limitation to carry out his goal to die on the cross for the sins of the world, including my sin, in an instant he was no longer with the Father in heaven but warmly tucked away as an embryo inside Mary.
For God, all was ready. The fullness of time had come.
What all of this involved is again way beyond my ability to understand. But we get a hint of it as far back as Genesis 3, at the time of Adam and Eve’s sin. Before talking to Adam and Eve after their sin, the Lord God spoke to the serpent. As part of the curse, God declared in no uncertain terms to the serpent of old,
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Gen. 3:15)
This is the first hint of what was to come and what would be fully ready at the time of Jesus’ conception and birth. A time was coming when an offspring of woman would settle the score, once and for all. Who that would be, when that would happen, how it would come to pass, and for whose benefit remained in the veiled future to those in the Garden of Eden. But when the angel Gabriel visited Mary during the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist, all was ready—the time had fully come.
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you . . . You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus . . . The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-28, 31, 35)
Mary was the woman; her offspring was Jesus, supernaturally conceived through the Holy Spirit. As the Son of God, he had come to crush the ancient serpent. But as of Christmas morning, that part of the story was still yet to unfold at a later stage of this child’s life.
What these pandemic-stricken days hold for us, only time will tell. But what Christmas morning holds for us, time has already told,
For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)