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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Christmas Online™

Could Christmas Possibly Come at a Worse Time?

    But 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. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Those words were penned by the apostle Paul, who never seemed to have a problem with God's timing.

But more than once during the holidays, I've heard people say things like "Christmas couldn't possibly have come at a worse time this year." Of course, we all know that Christmas (unlike Easter and Thanksgiving) comes at the same time every year. But some years, we can't help feeling that we are nowhere near ready to celebrate Christmas as we "ought."

In fact, for many American families, as Christmas approaches, life gets busier, money gets tighter, tempers get shorter, and, unfortunately, friends, family, work, school, our culture, and even our churches make increasing demands upon us.

Then add to those pressures the crises that seem prone to occur in the weeks leading up to Christmas. No wonder many adults view the approach of Christmas with far more apprehension than anticipation.

What was God thinking, allowing the birth of His Son to be celebrated at such a stressful time of year?

Was the First Christmas' Timing Any Better?

We all know that celebrating Jesus' birth on December 25 is mostly an accident of history. But whenever the first Christmas really was, you have to admit that the timing must have seemed pretty bad then, too.

God's timing must have seemed "off" from the first. Mary's "early" pregnancy had apparently caused her to be sent away from her family, at least for a time. It had also probably cost her and Joseph the community-wide support they might otherwise have expected.

Even worse, Caesar's census forced them to go several hard days' journey from the little support that remained to them. There would be no "baby showers," no "layettes," no relatives to hold the baby so the parents could get a little rest, not even a hand-me-down baby gown for the baby's first night. Except for their faith and their memories of what the angels said, Joseph and Mary seemed to be on their own at a time when their remaining friends and family would have been most helpful.

Please help us find the source of this painting - we used it because it illustrates the obstacles facing Mary and Joseph, but we don't know where it comes from.  We want to give credit and to make certain we're not violating anyone's copyright.  To see the whole painting, please click on this picture. Thanks - PaulThe young couple was also visiting Bethlehem at the worst possible time - the town was probably more crowded than it had been in centuries. Anyone who could claim any sort of relationship to the royal line of David was either in Bethlehem or on the way there.

How must Joseph and Mary have felt as they fought through the crowds trying to find a place to stay? No friends, no relations, and now, when they needed it most, no shelter. How could this possibly have been in God's plan?

Why was This "the Fullness of Time?"

To get our first glimpse an answer to this question, we have to go back five centuries in time. The prophet Daniel received a vision that told him when a great leader called the Messiah ("anointed one") would arrive. (Daniel 9:24-27). The math in Daniel's vision is complicated to interpret, but God had done the math and He knew exactly when to set things in motion.

But why did Mary and Joseph have to make such a trek?

To learn that, we need to go back another two centuries, when the prophet Micah predicted that a great expected leader would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). How great? So great that His coming has been promised since, well, forever. One translation says "from of old, from eternity." We might use the phrase "since the dawn of time" to express the same idea today. And if we go all the way back to the first book of our Bibles, we can read God's promise that a male descendant of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3). This is not only the first prediction of the Messiah - it's also where we learn that He would be born of a woman, but would have no earthly father.

In fact, the Hebrew scriptures contained hundreds of prophecies about what the Messiah would do once he arrived. Several prophecies declared or implied that He would be a descendant of David, but only Daniel specified when the Messiah would come, and only Micah specified where.

Yes, Mary's pregnancy, Caesar's census, and the young couple's trip to Bethlehem all may seem ill-timed to us. But a closer look shows that the timing of all these events was really part of a design that was at least as old as Creation. Nor was it hard for God to engineer a census that must have caused upheaval on three continents just to get a certain young couple to a certain small town in time for a certain very important baby to come.

Were The Time and Place Really That Important?

Actually they were. From the start, the time and place fulfilled critical promises of the Messiah. And within a few weeks or months at the most, the same prophecies guided the Wise Men from the East to the young family's home. Surely things looked a little brighter then - if nothing else, the young family had resources to migrate to Egypt when they needed to, with enough left over to start a new life in Nazareth later.

And ever since those days, the same prophecies have helped Jesus' disciples support their claim that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Does God's Timing Work for Families Like Ours?

Admittedly, it is often easy to wonder about God's timing in our lives, especially around Christmas. We seldom have to look beyond our closest circle of family and friends to see people who are suffering through hardship, crisis, and grief - at the same time our whole world seems to be holding up impossible standards for what Christmas "ought to be" and "ought to do" in our lives.

It would be nice to think that there are a handful of well-funded Babylonian sages on their way to our home this season. (Maybe Mapquest sent them the long way around Indianapolis.) But, sadly, God seldom uses such unexpected "good fortune" to meet our needs or mitigate our hardships. He seems to prefer to give us grace and wisdom to get through them so that we know how to help others in their turn.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for now is to keep praying for direction, doing the things we know are right, and remembering that He does see the end from the beginning - even if we can't see God's plan for us any more clearly than Joseph probably could when the third or fourth inn door was slammed in his face.

It also helps to remember the blessings we do have and to find ways to reach out to those who don't have even those.

God grant you and your loved ones grace and a spirit of generosity and service this Christmas season.

Paul D. Race, Family Christmas Online


If you have any corrections, comments, or additions you would like to make about this article, please contact me and I will be glad to hear from you. God bless - Paul


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