During this season of Christmas, we have heard the Christmas story as told by the prophets Moses, Isaiah and Micah; and by the Evangelists Matthew, Luke and John. Now today, we hear the Christmas story as told by the Apostle Paul.
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Paul couches the birth of Christ in the same cosmic realm as does John. Whereas John begins his account of Christmas, “in the beginning was the Word… and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” Paul begins “when the fullness of time had come.”
The fullness of time came on Christmas day. The ‘time’ that God created in the beginning with His, “and there was evening and morning the 1st day…” has now come to the day that all of time was created to mark. Time was bursting at the seams with the Promise of God. The countdown that had begun in the Garden of Eden when God promised that an offspring of the woman would crush the serpents head came to 3 – 2- 1 – Merry Christmas.
It’s important for us to firmly believe and not doubt that everything that happens concerning Jesus – His conception by a Virgin, His birth in Bethlehem, His flight to Egypt, the baby boys who were killed just because they resembled Him, His return to Nazareth – EVERYTHING was done according to God’s set purpose and plan. NOTHING WAS ACCIDENTAL or COINCIDENTAL.
The word of the prophets had to be fulfilled because it was God Himself who was speaking through them. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”
This is how the Word of the Lord works. It is spoken and it is done – maybe not right away. In fact, rarely right away. But the Word spoken is already shaping history according to that Word as soon as it is spoken. From the first word spoken by God, “let there be…” all things began the procession to the fullness of time – for the purpose that He might “redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
He was born of woman that we might be born of God.
He was born under the law that we might be born under grace.
He became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might dwell with God, even in the flesh.
The Son of God came in the fullness of time, at just the right time, to you and me and all humanity held captive to Sin and Death.
He came to redeem. To ‘redeem’ means ‘to buy back.’ He came to ‘buy back’ what had always belonged to Him and what He refused to either throw away or to let be taken from Him. He came to redeem YOU. And the price He paid to redeem YOU was “not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” Because that’s what you’re worth to Him.
That’s why He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not by Joseph or any other man. He did not have Adam’s sin that every child conceived by a man and woman have – that deep corruption of our humanity that makes every thought, word, and deed of ours selfish and self-serving, no matter how holy it might appear.
He is sinless man dwelling among sinful men and women. Not as some alien creature with whom we have nothing in common – but as bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh. And yet so perfectly sinless and pure that every thought and word and deed comes from a pure and selfless heart, moved solely by His love for you and me and all people. In that way He is clearly NOT like us.
But His purpose and intention is not to become like us – but that we should become like Him. Which, if we will permit it, is exactly where we are headed with the “fullness of time” comes to its end and He comes again in the “fullness of glory” and ‘time’ is no more.
Which clearly does not mean that now that the “fullness of time” has come, things will go smoothly and easily – either for Him or for us who know why He has come into this world.
In fact, quite the opposite. Herod wants to kill Jesus because he believes that Jesus has not come to “redeem” the world but to seize his throne. Herod wants to be the “King of the Jews” and will stop at nothing to secure the title. Power always wants more power, whereas this baby born of Mary, who possesses all power, wants to humble Himself and become the lowliest servant.
The Magi’s inquiry about a king being born troubled Herod enough to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem 2 years old and under just to be sure he got Jesus.
But the fullness of time had not yet come for His death. His “hour” had not yet come. It will come on a Friday afternoon some 30 years later – but not now. Now He has to be whisked off to Egypt by Joseph guided by angels in a dream. Just as another Joseph led Israel to Egypt long ago, now this Joseph leads Jesus to Egypt for safety until the fullness of time had come and Herod had died. And then, like Israel before Him, He makes His exodus out of Egypt. The Word through the prophet Hosea had come to the fullness of its time. “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
The Son is protected. His life is spared. But not so those baby boys of Bethlehem, whose only “crime” is that they resemble Jesus. They fall to Herod’s sword. We don’t know how many were killed. Bethlehem was not very big. BUT EVEN ONE CHILD IS TOO MANY.
And so we ask the inevitable question, ‘COULDN’T GOD HAVE INTERVENED? COULDN’T THE FATHER IN HEAVEN HAVE SENT ANGELS TO ALL THE FATHERS IN BETHLEHEM SO THEY COULD FLEE FROM HEROD TOO? WHY WAS JESUS SPARED AND THE REST OF THE BABIES WERE NOT?’
Those are question that arise whenever we meet with the death of “innocents.” It seems so unfair. God’s Son gets whisked to safety in Egypt, and Rachel weeps for her children. And how many Rachel’s are weeping?
Some use this episode as an illustration of the weakness, perhaps even the non-existence of God. ‘Surely if there is a God, He would not let not things like this happen.’ And we wonder, so just how do you reconcile the evil of Herod and the goodness of God? If God is merciful and powerful, if He is loving as well as omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, then why doesn’t He exert His “omnis” and do something about it?
Why doesn’t God launch a preemptive strike on Herod and spare the baby boys and their grieving parents? In fact, Herod DID die sometime after that, so you might say that God eventually DID put a hit out on him. But why not sooner, and why not soon enough to save the baby boys of Bethlehem?
I ask those questions knowing full well I dare not answer them. We are not given the answer to many of our “WHY” questions. “WHY” is a question spoken into the silence of despair when nothing makes sense. What we want some kind of handy explanation, a one size fits all answer for the tragedies that surround us and that invade our lives.
There are many mothers today weeping for their children who are no more – and they will not be comforted by superficial answers. They don’t need to hear things like “God needed them more than you do” or “God spared them the trials and tribulations of adulthood” or “God had a purpose in letting them die.”
There is no “SENSE” to this episode, no REASONABLE EXPLANATIONS that can bring “closure” to a parent’s grief. There is only a king so drunk on power that he’s willing to kill anyone who gets in the way of his agenda. And a God who seems either unwilling or unable to stop him or at least intervene on behalf of the innocents.
So what are we to do with this? To begin, we need to focus on the Word from God that we have been given which focuses on that SINGLE CHILD who, at least at the moment, seems to be the object of God’s attention – the ONE CHILD among the others who gets whisked off to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod.
He’s the One you need to pay attention to. He is God’s Son – the promised Seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent and deal decisively with Sin and Death once for all.
Saving those baby boys of Bethlehem would have saved them and spared their parent’s tears. But it would not have saved the world or them from Sin and Death.
If we can discern anything at all about God’s agenda, it’s that He is intent on saving the world. Not just bits and pieces of the world. Not just a handful of people here and there. THE WORLD. Everything He created by the Word, He intends to redeem and save by the Word – and that Word was made flesh to dwell among us to accomplish this divine purpose.
Both Scripture and our common experience tell us that God isn’t so much committed to personal intervention. He’s not our micromanager in heaven. He doesn’t prevent tidal waves, earthquakes, stray bullets, drunk drivers, despotic dictators, and cancer cells from happening. He seems to leave things free to operate according to the laws of nature that He Himself established. Miracles are exceedingly rare. So rare, we really shouldn’t count on them.
Instead, the Father focuses all His attention on His Son. That’s the One who needs to be spared Herod’s sword. That’s the One who needs to be protected in Egypt. That’s the One who must come out of Egypt and live in Nazareth. That’s the One the prophets were speaking about.
“This is my beloved Son,” the Father says to Him in His Baptism. And in focusing all His energies and attention on the Son, the Father focuses all His creative love and energy on the world because the Son embodies the world. He is the Word through whom the world was made. He is the Word that is the light and life of all men. He is all of humanity rolled up in one Man, who brings life and forgiveness and reconciliation and peace.
Herod died. The children died. You will die. But the important thing, the one thing that matters, is that Jesus died and rose from the dead and lives. And in that one death, the world and all its sin and unreconciled evil is reconciled. He has redeemed the whole world.
And so, in all fairness, we should never say that God does nothing to intervene in the face of evil and suffering and death. In fact, God did the one thing that needed to be done. He sent His Son to be born into our flesh and to die and rise to save us. Whatever His reasons for not sparing the baby boys of Bethlehem from Herod’s sword, He redeemed their lives on Jesus’ cross. Every life and every death, including theirs, is accounted for in the death of Jesus. And that includes yours.
“He came that you might receive adoption as sons of God.” Your Baptism is your adoption papers. In your baptism, you became a child of God and a brother or sister of Jesus. Which means that your spiritual DNA matches His and you have inherited His righteousness, His holiness, His blessedness, His peace, His kingdom.
You are sons and daughters of God in the Son of God. Which doesn’t make you safe in this world – or more privileged than anyone else. We suffer the same injustices, the same diseases, the same tragedies. Herod’s sword doesn’t discriminate.
But the kingdom is ours because “in the fullness of time,” God’s Son was spared at Bethlehem but crucified at Calvary so that in Him you would be safe forever.
[Heavily indebted to Rev. William Cwirla]