Christmas Is The Right Time And The Best Time
Some people say that Christmas is for children. I, for one, will not agree with that. But I think in a special way Christmas is for older people, too. For over the years, one builds up a vast storehouse of Christmas memories. I look back in my own life tonight to think of Christmases past which cannot be duplicated again…of smiles that meant so much to me but which my eyes, no matter how they search, can see no more…of hands which once blessed me with grace and held me with love but which now can hold me no more…of eyes that used to shine with joy but which now are closed from this world. I think especially tonight of my mother. Had she lived, as the hands of your watch turn past midnight in a few minutes, she would have turned 80. Yes, for me, and I am sure for many of you, Christmas is a very special time. That’s why I’d like to take some time tonight to speak with you about time.Some people say that Christmas is for children. I, for one, will not agree with that. But I think in a special way Christmas is for older people, too. For over the years, one builds up a vast storehouse of Christmas memories. I look back in my own life tonight to think of Christmases past which cannot be duplicated again…of smiles that meant so much to me but which my eyes, no matter how they search, can see no more…of hands which once blessed me with grace and held me with love but which now can hold me no more…of eyes that used to shine with joy but which now are closed from this world. I think especially tonight of my mother. Had she lived, as the hands of your watch turn past midnight in a few minutes, she would have turned 80. Yes, for me, and I am sure for many of you, Christmas is a very special time. That’s why I’d like to take some time tonight to speak with you about time.
The Palace at Hampton Court is a well-known historical monument in Great Britain. It was built by Cardinal Woolsey, lived in by King Henry VIII, and is especially known to us as Christians as the place where the King James Version of the Bible was written. It is also well known for its maze—a mix of tall hedges so arranged that once you have found yourself in the middle of that, it is difficult to find your way out again. In case you are ever there, I’ll tell you the secret is to take the first two right turns and then every left turn thereafter.
But I think of that maze, at this time of the year, because it seems to me that at Christmas time we get caught up in a kind of maze of activities. Christmas is one of those seasons when there seems to be so many deadlines and so many dead ends. So many things to be done and so much confusion surrounding the things which are to be done that when at last we get to Christmas Eve, we are a little on the exhausted side. Yet we are still here. I think that is true because each of us seeks, in the act of worship on Christmas Eve, to be somehow especially touched by the Spirit of God. There is something about the mystery of this time which defines all the rest of our times. Shakespeare, speaking of this night said: “So hallowed and so gracious is the time.” We may not be able to explain that, but we understand the truth of it. In some way, inexplicable as it may seem, this time does define all other times. As Paul had it in his letter to the Galatians, “When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son.” What Paul is saying here is…
First of all, the world was ready for Christmas.
Historians have clearly shown that there was no time before and there has been no time since which was appropriate for the birth of Jesus as precisely that time when he was born.
For example, the world politically was ready for Christmas. Until that time, the world had been divided into competing national factions. But here, for a brief respite in history, Rome ruled the entire known world. There was a peace across the empire. True, it was a military peace maintained by force and sometimes by great violence. But the peace that prevailed was, in itself, most unusual. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Caspian Sea, from the Thames River to the Euphrates River, the world was one great Roman neighborhood. Had Jesus been born 100 years earlier, there would have been all kinds of obstacles strewn across the face of the earth to hamper and hinder the spread of His Gospel. Had He come 100 years later, He would have found the Roman Empire struggling for its very life in a consuming war against the Barbarian hordes from the North. But He came at just the time when there was a oneness in the Empire. The system of Roman roads, the finest in existence up to that point, (and some of those roads are actually still in use today) combined with the universal usage of the Greek language, gave the world a sense of unity not known before or since. That meant that when the story of the Gospel came to be told, when the troubadours of the faith went out to tell what they had seen and what they had heard, there was available to them a communication and transportation system like nothing the world had ever known. Yes, the world politically was ready for Christmas.
And economically it was ready also. Hollywood, in its movies, usually portrays the first century in terms of Roman pomp and magnificence. But Hollywood almost invariably gilds the truth. The fact is, poverty stalked the face of the Empire. The draining costs of wars, the extravagance of the Imperial Families, the high civil taxes, and an increasing population coupled with a decreasing source of food supply—all of these factors led to a great darkness and coldness and hunger across the known world. It was just at that time that a flame came to life in Bethlehem’s manger—a life entered into the world which could tell the world how it could take care of itself by loving and caring and sharing.
And the world was ready morally for Christmas. One of our modern historians, writing of the circumstances which existed in the first century said: “Rome was a flea market of conquered peoples, a mass of filth, a convoluted obstruction in time whose illiterate emperors hurled highly educated slaves to be food for the fish and wild animals. It was a heap of gold and garbage. The world had sinned away its childhood, had wasted away its youth, and now lived in grief, looking for some straw of moral hope.” It got not a straw but a Saviour lying on straw when the time had fully come.
And the world was ready religiously for Christmas. The old gods of the Roman Empire had faded into insignificance. Some Roman leaders, for political expediency, had tried to create a cult of the emperor, but you cannot get spiritual support, you cannot find that which heals a broken heart or cleanses a guilty conscience, or soothes a ruptured spirit from some frail mortal sitting on a marble throne in a city thousands of miles away. Consequently, there was abroad, in the hearts and minds and souls of the people of the world a deep, unfulfilled longing for that which was eternally true.
So, politically, logistically, economically, morally, and religiously there had been no time like this and no time since it. And it was precisely at that time, when the time had fully come, that God sent His Son into the world. The world was ready for Christmas. And then Paul says…
And God was ready for Christmas.
Notice what the passage says: “When the time had fully come God sent forth His Son.” God was planning Christmas long before the world ever thought of it. The right time and the right place and the right scene—all of that God conceived so that Christ would be able to come into the world in the right way. So that all things might work together for good to those who love Christ and who are called according to His purpose.
Of course, it is not easy for us to understand why God would come into the world in such a subtle form as a child born to peasant parents in a little out-of-the-way hamlet. Suppose, for example, we had known that the Son of God was to be born in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night. What would we have done? We would have seen to it that Mary and Joseph would have been put, not in the stable, but in the bridal suite. The shepherds would never have been allowed so near the holy child because the security would have been so tight. Only international “big shots” would have been admitted. “Prime Time Live” would have been preempted. Ted Koppel would have had a debate between the Arabs and the Jews on “Nightline.” Geraldo Rivera would wonder if Mary was really a virgin and would bring in six women who had conceived out-of-wedlock to shed the light of their knowledge on the subject. That’s the way it would have happened had we been in control, but God would not have it that way. This God who moves behind the scenes, came down a secret stairway, holding a baby in His arms, and in so doing, taught the world eternal lessons about humility and lowliness and love and grace. He chose two peasants in an obscure village and a baby in a manger. That’s the way He planned it. That’s the way He scheduled it. That’s the way He carried it out. And that’s why it worked. When the time had fully come, when God was ready, He sent forth His Son into the world.
The world was ready for Christmas and God was ready for Christmas. That leaves, of course, only one question. Are we ready for Christmas? Do we come here tonight expecting the same old thing, the same old carols, the same old poinsettias, the same old preacher, the same old sermon, or do we come expecting something else? Do we come expecting God to come down a secret stairway into our hearts, with a child in His arms, and do we expect Him to leave the child in our hearts so that we shall be changed politically, economically, morally and religiously? Do we expect tonight to learn things about humility and lowliness and love and grace that we have not known before? Do we expect something to happen in these minutes which can transform us all? Is your heart prepared? Are you ready for a new dimension of love and joy and peace and faith and hope in your life? If you are ready, if you are prepared, He will come. The time is right and the time is now. Are you ready? May this Christmas be for you and for those you love a very blessed time.