In Paul’s condensed version of the Christmas story (Galatians 4:4-5) he uses a curious phrase, “In the fullness of time.” I’ve often wondered about this.
In the Greek, this word “fullness” suggests a completion, or the end of a period of time, when all intended within it has been accomplished. In other words, when everything that needed to happen before Christ’s coming had taken place, then God sent His son. The ESV Study bible commentary says, “God sent his Son at the right moment in human history, when God’s providential oversight of the events of the world had directed and prepared peoples and nations for the incarnation and ministry of Christ, and for the proclamation of the Gospel.”
Scholars have suggested several reasons why this was the “fullness of time” in historical perspective:
W Because the Babylonian captivity had purged Israel from idolatry and at least they were focusing on the true God and looking for the Messiah, and so Israel, the people to whom the Messiah first must come, were not engulfed in idolatry but were looking at the true God even if through their own skewed vision and were looking for the Messiah.
W The canon of the Old Testament had been well-established; the prophecies were laid down; the synagogues had been established so there would be places to go to preach the Gospel to people who at least ostensibly were seeking to know the true God in Israel.
W Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language over the whole known world, certainly the Biblical world, so that everybody spoke Greek, so that the scriptures could be in the New Testament, written in a language that would be understood by everyone.
W Romans with their powerful Pax Romana had brought peace out of diverse cultures and built roads everywhere so that easy access both from the standpoint of travel and from the standpoint of authority would be available for missionaries spreading this Gospel.
All that being said, I can’t help but wonder about the possibilities if Christ had come today. I remember getting cable when I was a kid, we had a whopping 13 channels, and we were really excited because we could get WGN out of Chicago. Oh the days wasted watching “Bozo the Clown”. Now, we’ve got the Dish Network with a couple hundred channels (and still nothing to watch). We’ve got newspapers, radio, internet, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and viral videos… with just a little talent and the right online connections, your name could be known around the world tomorrow – remember the “numa numa” guy. In Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas asks Jesus, “Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land? If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.” With all we’ve got going for ourselves, wouldn’t today have been the fullness of time?
A friend of mine directed me an article titled “Your iBrain” in the October/November edition of Scientific American Mind, which reports
“Our high tech revolution has plunged us into a state of “continuous partial attention,” which is described as continually staying busy – keeping tabs on everything while never truly focusing on anything. We scan for an opportunity for any type of contact at every given moment. [And so we] exist in a sense of constant crisis – on alert for a new contact or bit of exciting news or information at any moment. Once people get used to this state, they tend to thrive on the perpetual connectivity. It feeds their ego and sense of self-worth and it becomes irresistible. The pathways for human interaction and communication weaken as customary one-on-one people skills atrophy. Although having all our pals online from moment to moment seems intimate, we risk losing personal touch with our real-life relationship and may experience an artificial sense of intimacy as compared with when we shut down our devices and devote our attention to one individual at a time.
Perhaps this is why God sent His son as a child, in a manger, so long ago. With all the online connectivity we have, what we really long for is a personal connection, what we desire is to have our worth affirmed, to be highly esteemed for who we are, what we need is someone who knows us and understands us and can save us from our sins. We need God with us – not some digital messiah, but a real and personal savior who is all in all.
So Paul says in Galatians 4, “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.” Jesus wasn’t made, He was sent forth. He always existed in the presence of God (John 1) as the second person of the Trinity. Yet at the same time, He was born of a woman, He was fully man. In order to save us He had to be God, for only God can overpower sin and death and hell. In order to save us he had to be man because only man can substitute for man and die man’s death. He had to be God and man, God to give His sacrifice infinite value, to bear our sins in his own body.
God sent us His son so that we might receive adoption as the children of God. 1 John 3:1 says “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” What an amazing privilege, what a spectacular gift! Our adoption into God’s family points us to the overwhelming joy and assurance of knowing we have a Father who loves us and a family with whom we share and enjoy our new life in Christ. The meaning of Christmas could be summed up in this: Jesus came as the Son of Man that we could become the sons and daughters of God.
May this news fill you with joy and peace this Christmas!