"And it came about, that while they were there, (Bethlehem), the days were completed, for her (Mary) to give birth." Luke 2: 6
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" I can still remember the first time I heard those words combined as an expression of profanity. I was a fifth grader at Main Street Elementary School in Farmingdale, New York. Dad had recently moved us from Dallas, Texas to Long Island, New York where he was to be pastor, church planter, and evangelism director for New York, Northern New Jersey, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and all of New England. I can still picture the boys at the old Home Mission Board in Atlanta coloring in the northeast section of the map, and saying to each other, "Well, Don Miller has that covered. Let's do lunch."
One of the most colorful parts of my life was spent in New York public schools. Swearing was an art form that I was familiar with, but these people had taken it to a whole new level. I had to admit that I had never heard anyone at O.M. Roberts Elementary School in Dallas taking the Lord's name in vain in such a way. When this expression was drenched in a truly toxic "Loongisland" accent it was a highly creative combo of the sacred and the profane. Who knew it could be Christmas every day of the year.
Paul wrote to the Galatians and used the phrase, "In the fullness of time." The translators of the 17th Century King James Version used it to express the culmination of a long awaited season or event, and the juncture of the sacred and the profane. "But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." (Galatians 4:4-5)
Several years ago, I developed an understanding of the word HOPE, by using the memory peg, H-Having, O-Our, P- Perspective, E-Elevated. God's plan unfolds before our eyes when we have a perspective that can rise above the dust and debris that accompanies the intimidation of immediate circumstances. One of Satan's favorite tools is "the intimidation of the immediate." He cannot stop God's plan from unfolding, but he can frighten God's children into closing their eyes and miss what He is doing. The Christmas story is not limited to the Gospels. God's redemptive plan runs from Genesis to Revelation. There is no separation between "holy" history and "secular" history. God orchestrates events that impact and influence people to carry out His will whether they believe in Him or not. When things look their worst is when God may be doing His best. When Roman soldiers were marching through Israel there were precious few people who could see any good in it.
"The fullness of time" refers to more than the nine months that Mary carried the hope of the world in her womb. When Jesus was born, God had been preparing the way for His mission a very long time. The prophet Daniel had foretold of a coming kingdom that would not be the result of the work of man. The rabbis believed The Messiah was to emerge during the rule of the Romans. The birth of Jesus was the ultimate junction between the sacred and the profane. God does not wait for a perfect time to do His best work. The same God that plundered the Egyptians to equip His children for their journey to freedom, also prepared the way for the freeing of people from their sins by using the Pax Romana.
What the prophets declared, the Romans prepared. When "the fullness of time" came, the world was ready for a movement of God like never before. Under the relentless pursuit for land, and power, Roman legions had marched to the far corners of the known world. They had set the stage for people of all nations to receive the message of God's love that Jesus was sent to deliver.
PAX ROMANA. Roman Peace meant that the seas had been swept clean of pirates. Ships in the Mediterranean could sail from port to port, and arrive safely to their destination. This meant that the message of redemption would spread like wild fire, when the Holy Spirit sparked the flames at Pentecost. There was an exceptional system of roads that connected the cities. Missionaries carrying the good news of Jesus could expect protection from Roman authority, as they moved from town to town. The Greek language was common to all the countries conquered by Rome. It was adopted by the Romans for the efficient conducting of trade, but God would baptize it to enhance the international communication of the gospel message. The most important element was the spiritual bankruptcy that was rampant in the Roman world. The Romans had hijacked the Greek gods, and given them new names, but it was the same old story. Although there was an official recognition of the religious system, it had no life-changing power for the conquerors or the conquered.
Whenever intimidating circumstances blind you from seeing what God is up to in this world, give Him the benefit of the doubt. God is always preparing the way for His people to have a way to communicate His love to a new generation of people in need of a Savior. We still live in 'the fullness of time." God does not need perfect conditions in order to impact people with His Presence. He only needs people who still believe Jesus and His church are the hope of the world. Remember the four words for hope. Having Our Perspective Elevated? Helps, doesn't it? When you greet someone with the words, 'Merry Christmas," you are carrying on God's legacy of sending the sacred to transform the profane, and giving people the hope of Christ in the middle of their intimidating circumstances. Say it one. Say it all.