It is interesting this time of year to listen to everything on the radio that is a part of building the spirit of Christmas. It is always interesting to see what little additions come along. Lots of the songs that you and I love, that get us into the mood of Christmas, don’t really have anything to do with the birth of Christ: “Silver Bells,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”
I’m not going to bah humbug those songs. But some of them strain me. Last year’s song about the reindeer that ran over grandma, did you know there is a sequel to that song this year? Grandma runs over the reindeer. I heard one a few years ago about Snoopy and the Red Baron in a dog fight. The Red Baron has him in his sights and he hears church bells down below and doesn’t shoot him down. Some people have a low tolerance for sentiment and they get all teary-eyed with that.
Christmas is not celebrated because of grandma and the reindeer or Snoopy and the Red Baron. Christmas is celebrated because of the birth of one baby. Listen to two verses:
“When they were there the time came for her baby to be born.”
Or from Galatians 4:
“When the fullness of time had come God sent his own son.”
Christmas is about God’s timing in our lives. Each of us knows how important timing is. If you are a mechanic the timing gear on a car determines whether it runs, how smoothly and how economically it runs. If you are involved in athletics you know the timing for that lineman to make his block or the timing for the quarterback to turn and make that pass off is critical. If you grow things, when you plant them is critical.
Humor. Whether something is funny or boring sometimes has nothing to do with the content, it has to do with the timing. I love to listen to Garrison Keillor tell stories, the Lake Wobegon man. If you have never heard him tell any of the stories you have missed one of American’s great storytellers. You could give one of his best stories to my Uncle Bill and he could put you to sleep telling it. He doesn’t have any sense of timing. He doesn’t know what to leave out; he includes everything.
Lots of things involve timing: our careers, our relationships. As we celebrate the birth of Christ I want to think a little bit about God’s timing in our lives.
My becoming a Christian was a matter of timing. My parents were tenants on a farm in Oklahoma in a community where there were no religious people, no church, no outstanding religious families. The dustbowl and the depression came. We moved up to northern Illinois for work in a factory and rented a house across from the Tri-City Packing Company, one block from a little Baptist church that knew how to reach out to people and love them. I wonder what would have happened had there been no depression. I wonder if sometimes the timing of God is in the moving around of people.
I have wondered often about Barbara and my getting together. She is from south Georgia and I am from northeast Oklahoma. She was working in Nashville. I was thinking about going to seminary in Louisville. A woman said to her, “Barbara, I think you ought to go to Southwestern. That’s the place for you.” Some of my friends said, “I think you ought to go to Southwestern.” I went down there and just felt in place. I had dated so many people for whom marriage would have been a disaster for both of us. In my third semester, Thanksgiving vacation, someone introduced me to Barbara Burke from Georgia. We went to a meeting together and fell in love. Timing.
I believe with all my heart there is a timing in life and God gets involved in the history of our lives. He gets involved in the circumstances and decisions of our lives.
The two verses I read are tied together. They are tied to the celebration of Christmas and deal with God’s timing in the birth of Christ. Both verses refer to the birth of Christ. “Her baby” refers to Mary’s baby, Jesus. Very human baby. Very human mother. The phrase, “His own son” refers to the heavenly Father. A very divine baby. A very divine father. In these two verses we pick up the whole theology of the Incarnation: that this baby of Mary’s was totally human. This son of God was totally divine and they were one baby.
Luke 2 uses time to refer to the completion of a human pregnancy. It is a thing that amazes the most learned physician and the most unlearned lay person. Though people have been having babies from the beginning, there is still the ability to create wonder in each of us when we see a little baby. Babies have a way, also, of humbling experts with their own timetables. We were going to get ready for Nancy, our first child, in September. Everybody said that is when she would arrive. Nancy decided to come on August 13, when nobody was ready but Nancy. The Luke 2 passage is a reference to the pregnancy.
The Galatians 4 passage uses time to refer to God’s timing and Christ’s coming. It gives us a much broader perspective to the birth of this baby. It encompasses the whole purpose of God in His coming. He came to reveal things to us about God, what God is like, and what Christ was like; what God believes and what Christ taught; what God does and what He acted out on the cross.
In this birth we have God in the flesh. This person will become God’s means of redemption. The cross points to the mystery of redemption. This person would reconcile us to God that we can find status as sons and could reconcile us to each other. In the very passage the text comes from, the Scripture says there is no such thing as Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. We are all one person in Christ. So Paul’s statement about the coming is a broader statement.
I think at the time of his birth Mary probably would have found it hard to believe God’s timing was in it. Very often when we are in the midst of crisis — when we are in the midst of decision — we wonder how God could be in these kind of circumstances. We have in our minds some ideal situations in which we’re just sitting, meditating on the goodness of God. To this young woman who had not yet consummated her marriage to Joseph, to this child which was born in occupied territory, controlled by a foreign despot, to this couple who had been disrupted by a census and were in a town where they didn’t have close friends or a support system, in Bethlehem crowded with people there for a census, no adequate housing, a stable became a maternity ward.
From the advantage of history, looking at it through resurrection in 1990, it is a little easier for us than for Mary to see God’s wisdom in the timing of His birth. Christ came into a world at peace; and you didn’t need a passport. There were no travel restrictions. There were no national barriers. Can you imagine a world like that? He came at a time when travel and communication were their most advanced for that time. Roads and mail and mobility. He came when there was a common language. Can you imagine all the people who have given their lives to translate the scripture into the language of people? Christ came when one language would get you everything.
He came at a time when there were Jewish people in almost every community. Those people became the theological foundation for the gospel. When the gospel was preached, those who responded to Christ became the early evangelists. He came when Greek culture and thought had permeated the world with education. The time was right for the birth of His son.
As we celebrate the time when Christ was born, it is a fact that in the purpose of God there is available for you life in all of its fullness. That is God’s purpose for each one. God would like for each of us to know Him personally in love, acceptance, forgiveness and trust.
As we come to know Him, He would like us to grow up and mature as sons and daughters of God in a relationship of obedience in which we begin to act out, in this world and in our relationships with people, His love. He wants everyone of us to know Him and to grow up and be of service — our gifts to be used in the kingdom. Whether or not this all comes about is tied to how we relate God’s timing in our lives.
Paul’s text suggests there is a dynamic here. God is able to use the events of history, all the circumstances of our lives to create new things. It means we must respond to God’s timing in the midst of life. Sometimes, like Mary, we can’t see God at work in what’s happening to us this week. Occasionally we can see God’s timing in the lives of others because we are outside their lives and have a more objective look. Often with the eyes of faith we can look over our shoulders and see God’s timing in our past. You could sit down at lunch today and begin to talk to the people with you about how in retrospect God was at work in events in your life when you didn’t even know it. You could talk about your experience of salvation, vocational decisions, all sorts of things.
Our son Troy, our middle child, was a very severe asthmatic. Barbara and I were with the children in New York City on sabbatical, 1965. Would you believe that the doctor, who Barbara made an appointment for Troy to be seen by during that period, was a pioneer in all the medical profession in the desensitizing for people who were terribly allergic? It is amazing that this frail little child having a hard time to breathe, at that time he needed most, would be living in an apartment in New York City belonging to Union Seminary, and would have as his doctor one of the great authorities in that field. Think about your life and the timing that very often is there.
I think about when I hit seminary. The two things that characterized me were intensity and dumbness. I had a calling that was unbelievable. It was transforming my life. But with that calling I picked up all the ideas I had been exposed to, about half of which were totally inadequate in their understanding of the Bible or God or the church or anything else.
Suddenly I am in a school where they are opening up windows in my heart and in my head. Those old stale ideas are floating out the windows and a fresh breeze is blowing in my life. Can you think of those places in your life?
There are times when we know it is God’s timing. God is dealing with us and we know it is His time. We sense that in the timing of God it is decision time for us. There is a need to respond to what God is doing.
Just as we must respond to the gift of His son Jesus Christ, we need to respond to what God is doing in our lives and the circumstances of our lives. Nothing stays the same. Life is not just a catalog that you pick up and order what you want out of it. You and I don’t stay the same. You are not the same person you were this time last year. Some of you are dramatically different persons. Doors don’t stay open forever. They close. Options run out. And feelings pass.
In the timing of God often there is a sense of emergency and a “seize the moment” kind of quality to some decisions. There is the “today if you hear His voice harden not your heart” implication. I think on this day when we launch ourselves into thinking about God’s timing and the birth of His son, Jesus Christ, we need to do a little thinking about God’s timing in our lives.
What time is it for you? Is it time to get your act together and maybe clean up your act? You and I live in a world that seduces people’s best intentions. We start out so wanting to serve God and to be God’s, and then we get compromised just by living in this world. Maybe this is a time to put it back together, with God in the center. Time to clarify your values. Get a better feeling of what is right and wrong and match our lifestyles with our values. A time for renewing some basic relationships with friends, parents, children or spouses. Maybe a time to get to know God.

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