It’s Christmas time. What does that mean? Mistletoe and wine? Logs on the fire? Presents? Santa Claus or Father Christmas? Carols? Lights? Turkey? The Great Escape, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Die Hard?
It is actually ‘Christ’s time’. But what does that mean?
Timing is everything. If only the ambulance had arrived 10 minutes earlier. If only I had moved my bat a fraction quicker. If only that worker in the Wuhan lab hadn’t gone home so quickly…
We so often get our timings wrong. Even this Christmas we wonder whether Boris Johnson is right not to impose further restrictions, or whether Nicola Sturgeon has got her timings right. But for us we usually only know in retrospect.
Life is full or regrets about bad timing, or thanks about what we consider to be fortunate timing. But what about God? If he is all knowing, and all powerful, if he is not the subject of time, but the cause of it, then why did he not send Jesus until just a couple of thousand years ago?
There are many answers to that but let me share a couple with you that I hope will be as helpful to you as they were to me.
Paul tells us that, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).
It was at just the right time. The people long in darkness pined.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).
It was just at the right time that God sent his son into the world to be the pivotal point of human history, BC and AD, and the saviour of humanity. The Church Father, Gregory of Nyssa in his work ‘The Great Catechism’ put it beautifully: “When, once then, the disease of evil had fixed itself in the nature of mankind, He, the universal Healer, waited for the time when no form of wickedness was left still hidden in that nature.”
Evil matured before Christ came. Christ came when the world was ripe for him.
There are those in our culture who have a somewhat different view – they regard the Greco/Roman/pagan era as a time of light and joy, and the coming of Christianity ushering in the Dark Ages. That is revisionist history par excellence because anyone who knows anything about Roman history knows that this was a cruel and wicked era – with slavery, abuse of children, appalling gaps between rich and poor and a level of unprecedented cruelty and violence.
The Australian evangelist Glen Scrivener, now working in the UK, has a great poetic gift which he uses to great effective – especially in his Christmas videos. This year is no exception – although it may be unusual that for a Christmas video it has to have a warning about sexual violence being mentioned. Glen creatively paints the darkness of the world into which Christ came at just the right time.
It’s helpful for us to remember that today. For some it seems as though we are regressing to that Greco/Roman/pagan world again. It’s as though we are living in a land when it is always winter but never Christmas, and the White Queen rules in deep darkness. Great is the Darkness that covers the earth. But Christmas is always a reminder that God has his times. He has many times turned the world upside down, and shone his light into the darkest hearts and the deepest pits.
I don’t believe in a God of coincidences. Or perhaps it’s better to say I do believe in a God of coincidences – not one who just copes with what he does not see, or is out of control, but a God who manages and knows and works his amazing tapestry through the million different threads of our intertwined lives.
Allow me to give you one personal example. Ten years ago, I came very close to death. When by the miracle of God and the ministry of medicine, it came towards Christmas I was desperate to go home. I had been in hospital for 11 weeks and my surgeon told me that I was not yet ready, but I pleaded with him and he decided to give me a short trial at home to see how I got on.
So, the taxi arrived at the hospital with my wife and daughter on a Saturday morning and for the first time in months I thankfully breathed the cold Scottish air. We got home and I was helped into a chair in the living room. All I could hear were cries of excitement from my wife and daughter who were in the hallway opening up a massive M and S hamper full of Christmas goodies. Then even more delight as a large bunch of flowers arrived. We had a great couple of hours before I returned to the hospital.
So why do I tell you that story? The flowers came from my wife’s workmates who did not know I was coming home. The hamper came from a kind millionaire in the US who I am not sure was even aware I had been in hospital. The point is that it had been ordered weeks before and arrived at just the right time. We took these as tokens of God’s grace, love and mercy.
You may regard that as naïve. You may not believe it. If so, I just feel sorry that you live in such a depressing, cynical world. I know the world is full of darkness. I know Christians get sick, suffer poverty and all the ills of humanity. I regard the so called Prosperity Gospel as a blasphemous corruption of the real Gospel. But we must never forget that we serve and worship a God who gives us all things richly to enjoy and who often sends us tokens of his grace and mercy.
This Christmas we do worship the Greatest Gift. And we also rejoice that along with Him God will “graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Christ is the Christ of the present – and the Christ of the ‘presents’. Have yourself a very merry, merciful and miraculous Christmas!