Devotional by John Hobson.
‘On the third stroke it will be … precisely.’ Even in this digital age the Speaking Clock can still be accessed by dialling 123 on a BT phone line to give you the precise time.
However, the date of Christ’s birth, based on the dating of a monk (Dionysius Exiguus), was not so precise. King Herod died in 4 BC which meant that Jesus was around 2 years old at Herod’s death (see Matt. 2:16). From Luke’s account Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem for the census that ‘took place while Quirinius was governing Syria’ (Luke 2:2). From this information and from the historian Josephus’s work it has been estimated that the date of our Lord’s birth was early 5 BC and that would fit Matthew and Luke’s accounts. However, it is unnecessary to quibble over the exact timing of Jesus’ birth. The important thing is that it was the precise moment in God’s timing.
Through the preceding centuries God had been preparing for the arrival of His Son. ‘Prophets foretold him’ as one carol says. Prophets like Isaiah, living over 700 years before Christ, prophesied that ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’ (Isa. 7:14). A couple of chapters later Isaiah gives more details of this Child who is born ‘unto us …: the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace’ (Isa. 9:6).
These titles point to both who He was and the work He came to do – He will bring peace. Not some vague, temporary feeling of peacefulness, but peace with God through His blood shed for our sins on the Cross.
A contemporary prophet to Isaiah is Micah. Micah chapter 5 v. 2 gives the exact place of the birth of the Christ – Bethlehem in Judea. When the Wise Men came seeking the King of the Jews, the scribes in Jerusalem knew exactly where to find this reference to the birthplace of the promised Christ. How sad that these ‘Scripture experts’ did not follow the example of the Wise Men and go and seek for Him (Matt. 2:11). The only one who did seek for Him was the notoriously cruel tyrant, King Herod, who, perceiving that the young Child was a threat to his throne, sought to destroy Him (Matt. 2:7–8, 13).
Another man who thought that he should do many things to destroy the Christ and who persecuted Christians to death was Saul of Tarsus. But after he met with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) his inner eyes were opened to see that Jesus was truly the Son of God (Acts 9:20). Later, as the apostle Paul, he wrote to the Galatians: ‘when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons’(Gal. 4:4–5).
In all the activity of preparing for Christmas should we not stop and ask ourselves: ‘What time is it in my life?’ Have I been pursuing many things and made no room for that Child in the manger. As another carol puts it:
Thou didst leave Thy throne
and Thy kingly crown,
when Thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem’s home
was there found no room
for Thy holy nativity:
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus!
there is room in my heart for Thee.
Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott, 1836–97