Timing in the Book of Acts is just as important. Account after account of the spreading of the Gospel is related to the fact that the key personnel in the story “just happen to be” at the right place at the right time. The Lord is given the credit for all these moments where a miracle takes place for who can really orchestrate the timing of these events other than God Himself? Peter and John “just happen” to be at the Temple when a lame man is looking for healing (Acts 3). Peter “just happens” to be in Joppa when Dorcas dies and those who mourn her passing are looking for mercy and the restoration of their dear sister in Christ (Acts 9:32-43). Peter and Cornelius “just happen” to be within miles of each other when the Lord reveals the extensive reach of the Gospel to both of them in visions (Acts 10). Philip “just happens to be traveling on the same road as an Ethiopian official who is seeking a better understanding of the prophet Isaiah (Acts 8:25-40) and the list goes on.
If the aforementioned but brief list of well-timed events is any indication, Luke’s account of Christ’s birth definitively cements his ability to recognize the timing of events that can only be attributed to the hand of God and during the season of Advent this aspect of timing is an important undercurrent. It begins with an aspect of government that is not much different than our experience today- taxes. Luke notes that Caesar Augustus has determined to take a census in order to tax those in Judea by their family lineage during the time when Quirinius is governor. This edict sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem since both have ancestry through the line of David. Unbeknownst to Augustus, his financial needs for the empire have just fulfilled a 400-year-old prophecy (Mic. 5:2). It also keeps them in the area for the grandest birth announcement ever recorded in history when shepherds who have their flocks in the vicinity of Bethlehem are witnesses to the angelic proclamation that Jesus has been born in “the City of David”, Bethlehem’s kingly claim to fame. There were only certain times of the year that shepherds would be that close to Bethlehem. All other times they would be further away due to the agricultural cycle and crops yet to be harvested. However, on the night of Jesus’ birth, the crops are in- and so are the shepherds.
Timing in the event of Christ’s birth continues with the advent of a star so spectacular it can only mean the birth of a king or other dignitary. This celestial herald compels a group of Persian astronomers to begin an arduous journey that will bring them to Jesus about a year later even though most of our nativity sets have them joining the shepherds in welcoming the Baby Jesus. But there are two other “coincidental” moments that are often over-looked in the Christmas story which take place long before the “wisemen” arrive to honor the king with their gold, frankincense and myrrh. In Luke 2:21-38 Mary and Joseph take the short trip up to Jerusalem to fulfill the commandment given in Leviticus 12:3 and it “just so happens” that two very devout and faithful people are there to witness their arrival. Simeon has been waiting to see “the consolation of Israel” before he dies and Anna confirms the words Simeon speaks over Jesus when Mary and Joseph arrive in the Temple courts for Jesus’ dedication and naming. Luke makes a point in verse 27 that Simeon came to the Temple that day by “God’s Spirit” and that Anna arrived “at that moment”. In other words, neither Anna or Simeon orchestrated the timing- it was all God’s doing.
Advent is a season of dual waiting which emphasizes God’s timing. The first aspect of waiting or timing was that of Christ’s birth (Gal. 4:4). The second aspect of timing in Advent concerns Christ’s return but we do not know when that will be (Mt. 24:42). However, if we are to learn anything from our faithful predecessors like Simeon, Anna, Peter, or Paul, it is to be aware of how God orchestrates our own “time”. Does He put us in certain places at certain times to bear witness to what He has done in our lives? Does He put us in the midst of people who need to hear about Him just at the moment when they need it the most? The last thing we want to be at those moments is unprepared (Mt. 25:1-13). When it comes to the Second Advent or our testimony, timing is everything!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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