In the Fullness of Time
Topic: Biblical Verse: Galatians 4:4–4:7
The First Sunday after Christmas
December 26, 2010
“In the Fullness of Time”
Every year, Christmas always comes at the same time – on the same day, even – and yet, for many of us we find that we’re scrambling to get everything done at the last minute. There are, of course, notable exceptions to the rule: people who get their shopping done way ahead of time, who get their cards out weeks in advance, who have taken care of the decorating and baking with plenty of time to spare. I’m not such a person, and I can only say: God bless them, and I wish I were like them! Everything comes down to the fullness of time that is our annual celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh. The good news is that whether we are ready for Christmas or not, Christmas comes anyway. The blessing of Jesus entering into our world and into our lives comes whether we’ve got our act together or not; whether we’ve got everything checked off on our to-do list or not. And so on this First Sunday after Christmas, we continue to sing our beloved carols, we continue to rejoice in God’s gift of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The message for today, based on the Epistle lesson from Paul the apostle, is entitled, “In the Fullness of Time.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.
“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, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). What does Paul mean here, “when the fullness of time had come”? What’s up with that? To understand this, we’ve got to understand that in the original language of the New Testament (Greek), there were several ways to reckon time. Our English language doesn’t really do this, and we’re the less rich for it. The Greeks understood chronos time, where we get our word “chronological.” This is regular, sequential time – minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. This is the annual cycle of the seasons in the world around us: winter, spring, summer, and autumn. This is how we usually think of time: time to get up, time to eat, time to go to work or school, time to go to sleep. But is this all there is to time? We can end up feeling like we’re on a treadmill – sort of like the Energizer Bunny who just keeps going, and going, and going. Isn’t there some larger understanding of the big picture of time and how our lives fit into this? Yes, there is, and this is what Paul is talking about here. This is not chronos time, but kairos time. This is the other understanding of time that the ancient Greeks had. This is not regular, sequential time, but the God-appointed time, the supreme moment, when something special happens. “But when the kairos time – the God-appointed time, the supreme moment, the fullness of time – had come, God sent forth his Son…” This is how Paul, inspired through the Holy Spirit, speaks of the birth of Jesus.
So, what made this particular point in time the God-appointed, kairos time? We know that this happened at the time of the decree from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered, while Quirinius was governor of Syria – Luke’s Gospel is very clear about these historical markers, as well as location: in the city of David in Judea, called Bethlehem (see Luke 2). We can hazard guesses about why this moment in time was God’s chosen kairos time, but ultimately we cannot know for certain. In humble faith, we can only receive the gift of God born of Mary in Bethlehem’s manger. God himself tells us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
There’s a purpose behind this whole kairos time thing here, as our friend Paul makes clear: “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, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). God’s purpose in sending his Son was not just so people could “Ooh!” and “Ah!” over the beautiful baby. God’s purpose was for that baby to grow up into a man, and not just man, but true God and true man, who would fulfill all righteousness in our behalf because we could not. He would live and serve, suffer and die, rising in triumph over sin, death and the grave. In the midst of our Christmas celebrating and rejoicing, let us not forget that the crib will lead to the cross. That, too, will be a kairos moment of God, even as we will sing in that beloved Christmas carol:
Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the Son of Mary!
And because Jesus, born of woman, born under the law, has redeemed us, we have received adoption as God’s sons and daughters. “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:2). We belong to the Lord and are his adopted and beloved children – not sometime far off in the future, but right here, right now, because of that Child born of Mary. Because of him, we can draw near to God, calling him “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:5), that is, “Daddy!” We are sons and daughters of promise and hope. We are heirs who already have received gifts and blessings from the hand of the Lord, and will inherit from him things that will far exceed any Christmas gift we might receive.
A happy and holy Christmas to you, dear friends, as we rejoice in Jesus, God’s gift to us in the fullness of time. Amen.