When the Fullness of Time Had Come…

we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law… (Galatians 4:4)

One Christian I know has a rather unique Christmas tradition. He buys no Christmas gifts for his family until Christmas Eve, when he goes to his community’s only big-box discount store at 11 p.m.

Every year, he does all his Christmas shopping at the very last minute (hour), partly as a statement and stand against commercialism and materialism, and partly because it suits him.

One year, however, instead of staying open till the last possible moment to accommodate those last-minute Christmas commandos, that store closed.for some reason. To this man’s chagrin, the local shop-a-rama closed early (at 10 p.m.) on Christmas Eve.

That year, he relishes recalling, his wife and children all received office supplies from a convenience store for Christmas.

Many folks celebrating our Savior’s birth devote many minutes to Christmas preparation. Others may be minimalists or procrastinators or self-designated Advent Efficiency Experts. But Christmas comes with dreams and to-do lists for many of us.

Christmas generosity also overflows. Here’s a young Presbyterian with a wagon full of Christmas gifts for neighboring children:

Way to go FPC!  A. is helping me deliver all of the Salvation Army stockings--and we provided a bus full of presents to the district office yesterday!!!

As I write this, Christmas Day 2014 is one week away. Six (or seven?) shopping days left, though you may only need a few minutes and a few gift cards.

At the risk of espousing holiday heresy, Christmas time often heightens life’s anxiety and frenzy. As the time approaches, we want our tree to look full of lights and ornaments, underneath the tree to overflow with packages, our hearts and homes to be full of lively sounds and lovely smells and warm emotion with our most beloved family and friends. Nothing wrong with wanting Christmas joys, but we fret we will run out of time to get it all done or miss that picture perfect moment.

What God gives us is the fullness of time and the fulfillment of our deepest longing. This moment, and every moment, we live knowing, to borrow C.S.Lewis’ phrase, that ours is a “visited planet.”

The “fullness of time,” God’s timing, is not the result of our planning or supposed spontaneity or website specials or big-box stores. The fullness of time and the fulfillment of our human need come as God decrees, full of surprise and mystery and unimagined joy, with the breath of a Galilean peasant infant.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

A good conversation starter can be a useful pastoral tool, so I try to keep a few questions handy to get the conversation going.

This time of year, I might ask folks, “What is your favorite Christmas carol?” If they are people of faith, they might ask for clarification: “Do you mean Christmas songs or Christmas hymns?” To keep the conversation going, I usually say, “Both.”

My favorite Christmas carol, hymn, seasonal song is “Once in Royal David’s City,” a moving statement of Christian faith.

How about this — What is your favorite line from a Christmas carol?

One dear friend loves the line, “It’s not Christmas without Grandma
All the family’s dressed in black
And we just can’t help but wonder
Should we open up her gifts or send them back?,” (from the irreverent and perennial “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.”)

My favorite line from a Christmas song is:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

That’s what I hear us talking about every day — our hopes, our fears. We hope for something better, we fear something worse. We hope to succeed, we fear to fail. We hope our dreams come true, we fear any number of nightmare scenarios.

So, in the words of the carol, the Christ Child meets us where we live — at the intersection of hope and fear. God is IN Christ, fully joining us in the human experience.

As our Church sums it up: In Jesus Christ, God comes to us, as one of us, for all of us.