The Fullness of Time

Gal. 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Listen again to these familiar words from Isaiah the prophet, from last week’s readings:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”[1]

Now listen to these words:

“Now the last age of the Cumaean prophecy begins: the great roll-call of the centuries is born anew: now Virgin Justice returns, and Saturn’s reign: now a new race descends from the heavens above.  Only favour the child who’s born, pure Lucina, under whom the first race of iron shall end, and a golden race rise up throughout the world: now your Apollo reigns. . . .

“O dear child of the gods, take up your high honours (the time is near), great son of Jupiter!  See the world, with its weighty dome, bowing, earth and wide sea and deep heavens: see how everything delights in the future age!”[2]

Except for a few references to the Roman pantheon, these words are strikingly similar to Isaiah’s.  In fact, the words I’ve just read to you were understood popularly by Christians to be a prophecy of Christ for more than fifteen hundred years, up until just over a hundred years ago: a prophecy of Christ composed by a pagan poet named Vergil.  He wrote these words in ca. 40 BCE, roughly a hundred years before St. Paul’s words to the Galatians.  He died before Christ was born.  And so he was thought to be a prophet of the Most High, a sort of mouthpiece for God, despite himself.

Today’s reading from Galatians states: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent his Son.”

Well isn’t that interesting!  God, who exists infinitely beyond space and time, entered into our world in a very specific time and place.  And we all know the story of that time and place.  We’ve just celebrated it again, in fact, as we do every year during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

But look with me for a moment at this divinely inspired truth—that God sent his Son at just the right time, when the fullness of time had come—look at this together with Vergil’s words; and something is suggested.

When Jesus was born, the Jews were looking for a Messiah.  No doubt about it!  It’s not just the words above that demonstrate this, but a Messianic hope is discerned all through the prophets.  The Jews of Jesus’s day were walking in the deep darkness of an oppressive empire; and they were looking for, hoping for, a great light from heaven to break through such oppressive darkness.

But what about Vergil?  He was a pagan poet—pagan in the sense that he worshiped the Roman pantheon of gods and emperors.  He worked for the empire, seeking favor from the emperor Augustus himself.  He was a part of the Roman aristocracy!  Yet he writes words about a coming new era, a golden age, when there will be no more need for trade because each land will yield everything worth anything, of its own accord; an age when farming will no longer be needed; an age when there will be no more war, but peace all around, when, in effect, the lion will lie down with the lamb.

So, do you know what these passages suggest to me—these “prophetic” passages from both the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and the pagan prophet Vergil?  It wasn’t just the people of God hoping for a Messiah.  Rather, the suggestion here is that, when the fullness of time had come, when God sent his Son, it was the whole world that was looking for a Messiah.

Now, a qualification: I’m not saying that the whole world recognized Jesus as Messiah when he came.  Indeed, we know from the scriptures that the Jewish leaders did not recognize him.  They hassled him for healing the destitute on the Sabbath.  They rebuked him for casting out demons from people like that man who lived naked among the tombs, out of his right mind.  They denigrated him for sharing meals with tax collectors and prostitutes—with outcasts.

Treatment was similar from the Roman rulers, was it not?  Herod desperately sought to kill him as a baby.  Pilate callously condoned his sentence of crucifixion when he easily could have done something to stop it.  Soldiers mocked him and spat upon him and even gambled over his clothing.

Nevertheless, some did recognize him: his twelve disciples, for instance; that man among the tombs, whom he restored to his right mind; those tax collectors and prostitutes—those outcasts—he shared meals with; Zacchaeus; Mary and Martha; Lazarus; a Roman centurion whose son he healed; the five thousand he fed on the hillside; even the wind and waves upon which he once walked.

The whole world was ready for him, the Messiah.  The whole world was looking for him.  And some in fact recognized him when he came, Jesus, Christ incarnate, fully man and fully God.  Yet—despite the world’s readiness, despite their watchfulness—many did not recognize him.

It’s no different today.  Remember that time and space stuff I mentioned earlier?  Once God entered into our world’s dimensions of time and space there was no going back, meaning Christ is still here, still reigning, still ushering in that golden age; and he will continue to do so as long as the world we know continues.  Whether or not people recognize him as Messiah!

So, to return to this idea, it is no different today: today, still, the whole world is looking for a Messiah; yet, today, still, many people do not recognize the Messiah when they see him; however, today, still, there are some who do recognize him.

We who do recognize Jesus Christ as Messiah are left, therefore, with a task.  Namely, we must be Messiah to our world even if the world doesn’t see us that way.

We must be Christ’s light to a land of darkness, exposing injustice for the oppressive force that it is.  We must provide a healing balm to the destitute around us.  We must strive to see, name, and cast out the demons of those who are suffering from their torments—perhaps even to cast out our own demons, from which we ourselves suffer.  We must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, provide for the poor, and—heaven forbid!—fellowship with outcasts.  And we must do it all whether the world recognizes the Messiah in us or not!

The world is ready.  For its own sake, let’s give it what it truly needs!


 

[1]           Isaiah 7:14-16.

[2]           Translated by A. S. Kline, 2001: http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/VirgilEclogues.htm#_Toc533239265.

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One Response to “The Fullness of Time”

  1. Tim, you issued a call to the people to BE Christ in the world. IF they listened and acted, it would be revolutionary. Chances are they went home and watched television. Keep on plugging! It’s worth the effort.

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