But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son . . . (Galatians 4:4-7)
The fullness of time. We know all about that, don’t we?
After all, it is December. With the passing of each day we feel time getting full. Soon we’ll pass a threshold into the back half of the month and time will be crammed. Many of us, remembering our catatonic exhaustion following Christmases past, have promised that it won’t happen again this year. We’re fooling ourselves.
December comes bringing the same relentless roll call of parties and programs and practices. Stores are crowded, traffic is thick. We want to be polite, but we’re easily perturbed. Some are on edge, harried and hurried. The big kids have exams and the little kids have expectations. Honestly, we’ve all got expectations.
I’ve got a calendar on my office wall. The pages of the year are held together by a spiral binding, a different piece of artwork adorning each month. As one might expect, the wall calendar has been turned to show the month of December. The days of the month are represented by nice crisp squares. Every square is blank. The days are wide open. This calendar is lying to me.
The calendar I actually use is on my computer and my phone. Unlike my wall calendar, the lines that border each day are cluttered. And it’s getting more that way. This is December, the fullness of time indeed.
Of course, what I’m describing is not quite what Paul had in mind when he wrote about the ‘fullness of time.’ Scholars and commentators have much to say when they try to unpack the theological significance of Paul’s phrase. The basic idea seems to be that God sent Jesus into the world at just the right time. Jesus came to us according to God’s plan, accomplishing God’s purposes, all in God’s timing.
My definition lacks exegetical precision, but it retains that basic idea. Christmas comes according to God’s plans and purposes. It comes whether we’re ready or not. The fullness of time has little to do with our crowded calendars. This is about God’s timing. I like John Calvin’s comment on Paul’s words.
At what time it was expedient that the Son of God should be revealed to the world, it belonged to God alone to judge and determine. This consideration ought to restrain all curiosity. Let no man presume to be dissatisfied with the secret purposes of God, and raise a dispute why Christ did not appear sooner (Calvin, Commentary on Galatians)
With December’s demands we easily forget that Christmas is God’s project. God comes to us in the fullness of time. God comes to us when our time is full, crammed and committed. God comes to us at the right moment, according to God’s own plan. As Calvin said, let none of us presume to be dissatisfied with God’s timing and purposes. We’re going to spend the remainder of the week thinking about God’s timing.
The month is still young. What kinds of demands is December making on you?
Find us, O God, in the fullness of time. In the midst of December’s demands grant us your presence yet again. In all our striving, grant us grace and make us graceful, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.