Joseph went up to Bethlehem to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time was fulfilled for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. (Luke 2:5-6)
“When the time was fulfilled. . . .” What a redeeming power there is in these words! We are concerned day in and day out with lesser or greater matters that are to serve God and his cause. We work sometimes until we are weary and yet we see so little fruit. Does everything remain as it was? Haven’t we gone forward at all? Have we really been able to help a little somewhere, or have we merely affected the surface of things? Where is there a trace or glimpse of the goal we long for? What are all our efforts against the apparently indestructible powers of misery and evil?
It is well for us that at such hours the light is shining from the stable of Bethlehem and that we are able to sense what it means that the kingdom of God was born as a little child when the time was fulfilled.
Christmas did not come after a great mass of people had completed something good, or because of the successful result of any human effort. No, it came as a miracle, as the child that comes when his time if fulfilled, as a gift of the Father which he lays into those arms that are stretched out in longing. In this way did Christmas come; in this way it always comes anew, both to individuals and to the whole world.
You have perhaps waited for years to be freed from some need. For a long, long time you have looked out from the darkness in search of the light, and have had a difficult problem in life that you have not been able to solve in spite of great efforts. And then, when the time was fulfilled and God’s hour had come, did not a solution, light, and deliverance come quite unexpectedly, perhaps quite differently than you thought? Hasn’t this happened to you, just as the child comes at his own time, and no impatience or hurrying can compel it — but then it comes with its blessing and full of the wonder of God? Hasn’t God’s help come to us sometimes in this way?
And so it shall be with our yearning for the redemption of humanity and for a new shining forth of the world of God. When we are discouraged by the apparently slow progress of all our honest efforts, by the failure of this or the other person, and by the ever new reappearance of enemy powers and their apparent victories, then we should know: the time shall be fulfilled. Because of the noise and activity of the struggle and the work, we often do not hear the hidden gentle sound and movement of the life that is coming into being. But here and there, at hours that are blessed, God lets us feel how he is everywhere at work and how his cause is growing and moving forward. The time is being fulfilled and the light shall shine, perhaps just when it seems to us that the darkness is impenetrable.
Is it true that God only laughs at our efforts and strivings and that all this cannot avail; that we are to receive everything only as a gift? How wonderful is the answer given to us by the mystery of the child! Just as the mother knows that her own surrender, care, and faithful readiness must be present along with God’s working and creating, and just as every life comes into being through a deep inward working together of God and man, so it is also in the highest things, in the appearing and breaking through of divine life.
True, it is grace and a gift when our need is relieved and the darkness is illuminated, and it is true that what is best must be given to us and to the whole world, and that we could never produce it ourselves. But we and our efforts always belong to this, even though it were only to keep the manger prepared in which the Child of God wants to lie. Our efforts count, even though like Simeon we only stretch out our arms in the patience of faith and in loyal endurance so that we may receive the holy gift. Even though we only wait, poor and yearning in the darkness, in fervent longing for the proclamation, we are ready, and may help to bring about the fullness of time.
For the miracle of God comes not only from above; it also comes through us; it is also dwelling in us. It has been given to every person, and it lies in every soul as something divine, and it waits. Calling, it waits for the hour when the soul shall open itself, having found its God and its home. When this is so, the soul will not keep its wealth to itself, but will let it flow out into the world. Wherever love proceeds from us and becomes truth, the time is fulfilled. Then the divine life floods through our human relationships and all our works. Then everything that is lonely and scattered and seeking for the way of God shall be bound together by divine power. Then, of human effort and of the divine miracle, shall the world be born in which Christmas is fulfilled as reality.
(From Plough, here’s a link to the book, http://www.plough.com/en/ebooks/w/when-the-time-was-fulfilled)