In the Fullness of Time

Every model of car I have ever owned is no longer being manufactured, including the seven-year-old vehicle I currently drive.

Indeed, I got a good deal on it precisely because the automaker had already announced that model would no longer be produced.

It is interesting to note that auto factories are called assembly plants, not manufacturing plants. Very few parts, if any, are actually made on site. Instead, parts are manufactured in multiple other locations, shipped to the plant, and then assembled to produce a complete vehicle, new car smell and all.

The same logistical wonder is true for the assembly of jetliners. Take a tour of the Boeing 747 facility in Washington to appreciate the feat it is to put together a plane from tens of thousands of individual parts shipped in from elsewhere.
I am reminded of the clear coming together of factors surrounding the birth of Christ. In Galatians 4:4 Paul writes, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son” (NIV). In other words, the timing of the birth of Jesus was not random, but prepared.

What did that preparation look like? According to commentator Fowler White, we can identify at least four characteristics. First, it was a time of political preparation. The Roman Empire had brought the pax Romana (“peace of Rome”) to the then known world, uniting it as never before. Even an uneasy peace creates a stability allowing for the rapid expansion of news and ideas. Second, it was a time of infrastructure preparation. The Romans had constructed a fine transportation system, focused in five main highways leading from Rome to destinations in the ancient world. Third, it was a time of cultural preparation. The Greek language had become the medium of commerce, culture, and philosophy. Finally, it was a time of religious preparation. A famine of the soul, individual and societal, had come upon the world. The failures of paganism along with a revival of messianic hopes, created a longing in the hearts of women and men for transcendent hope.

The convergence of these factors meant it was possible for the gospel to reach throughout the entire Roman Empire in ways never possible before, and from those borders, to the ends of the earth.

As another particular illustration of the timing, think of the prophecy that the birth would be in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth, a three-day, seventy-mile trek away. God used an emperor’s census decree to get them to the right place.
The appointed debut of the Messiah arrived right on schedule, in a context readied for the spread of the good news in ways the world had never known before. What does it mean for us as we slow down and reflect this Advent?

First, God is not absent in the silence. There are some 700 years between some of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and their actual fulfillment. There are 400 years alone between the end of the Old Testament and the events of the birth of the Messiah. In the midst of it, no doubt it could have been perceived as deafening silence from heaven. Through it all, however, circumstances were being actively orchestrated for the timely coming of Immanuel, God with us. Silence does not mean abandonment. God remains at work in ways we cannot perceive that lead to God’s even more manifest presence among us.

Second, perspective on the pieces is found in light of a larger purpose. Life is not merely the accumulation of isolated experiences. Our faith tells us that God weaves things together into larger meaning. He knows the plans he has for us, according to Jeremiah. All things work together for good, according to Paul. No incident of life is all of life. But when we allow God to weave them together, we see displayed the gracious and purposeful hand of God. Take heart. There is meaning yet to unfold even in your bewildering circumstances.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.” This Christmas season, may you slow down enough to see the miracle of the birth of our Savior, and in so doing, be encouraged by the miraculous hand of God at work in your own life.

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