As we enter into the time of Advent (Dec. 2-24), I thought some reflection about this time of, “expectant waiting and preparation” would be a good thing. We are told that from the events in the last book of the Old Testament, which is the book of Malachi, until the events of the first book of the New Testament, which is the book of Matthew that 400 years had passed. During this time the Jewish people had endured being conquered, and being taken captive in a far off land. During this time they also kept alive the stories and prophecies of a messiah, who would come and free them from their captivity. During this time they also believed that they heard no word from God, in fact they refer to this time as the “silent period”, when God seemed to be absent from their lives. So, the Jewish people waited in their own Advent believing that God was not moving or acting, but that He would send the promised savior.
For many of us today that would explain where we are, “expectantly waiting” for someone or something to come and lift us out of whatever holds us captive. Our captive could be an addiction, or a lie in which we feel trapped, or it could be our hatred of those we fear or of those who we feel wronged us. Our captive could be the hurt of a loss, the loss of a loved one or of a job or a friendship, or it could be our own fears which cripple us. We wait, thinking that God is doing nothing, but holding out hope that he will come through for us.
In the book of Galatians the apostle Paul writes that God sent Jesus in the “fullness of time.”-Chapter 4, verses 4-5. The fullness of time means when all things were ready for him to come. You see during that 400 years, God was moving and orchestrating things. During that time Alexander the Great conquered the known world, and made all things Greek. Most of the world spoke some Greek and the scriptures were translated into Greek so people all over the discovered world could read them. The Romans, during that time, made roads all over their empire, complete with a highway patrol of sorts, and it was during that first part of the first centaury that the world enjoyed the Pax Romana, a time of world peace. The Romans made it possible for people to travel quickly and safely around the known world. Into this time, Jesus was born, a time when his message of love and peace could be taken to the ends of the known world at that time and heard by all.
As we wait, as we wonder when our prayers will be answered, we can be assured that as with that first Christmas, God is working behind the scenes of our lives preparing us so that in the fullness of our time God will answer our prayers. As we prepare ourselves for that time, there is one more lesson from that first Christmas, and that is that Jesus did not come as the conquering messiah the people expected, he came as a baby, in a manger, born in the backwater of the world, not what the people may have wanted, but even more effective then they could have imagined. We also must be prepared for God to answer our prayers in unexpected ways.
In this time of Advent, as we wait, as we are expectant, as we prepare for Christmas Day, may we also remember the promise that is Christmas, that God is moving and acting in our lives, and that in the fullness of our time our prayers will be answered, as they were all those years ago in Bethlehem. Perhaps they may be answered in unexpected ways, and perhaps not on our timetable, but as I am constantly reminded, “God is rarely early, but He is never late.” Merry Christmas!
The writer is the pastor at Jackson Center United Methodist Church.