Even so, we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons... — Galatians 4:3-5
It records that the Son of God was sent to this world at the fullness of time. To what does this refer? Well, we know that it cannot refer to Heaven and eternity, because they exist beyond time. So it must refer to this earth and the times that it passes through. It is to the history books we must turn to gain our insight. And although there are many histories to which we could turn, we will use one with divine authority, the book of Daniel.
In Daniel chapter 2, it records that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had a wondrous dream of an image made with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet mixed of iron and clay. And behold, the image was struck by a stone cut out of a mountain without human hand and was destroyed. And the stone became a mountain that filled the entire earth. When Daniel interpreted the dream for the king he said, The great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this; the dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure. What Daniel was saying is that God had chosen to reveal to Nebuchadnezzar the future history of the world from his present time to the time of the Lord’s Messiah and the beginning of the eternal kingdom. We have here an amazing opportunity to view history from God’s perspective.
Daniel interpreted the dream to rightly refer to the succession of earthly kingdoms which would hold domination in the earth. He began with the head of gold, Babylon and its king. We must remember that at this time the nation of Judah had been led into captivity by Babylon, and the nations of Israel had fallen some years previously to the hands of Assyria. The Jewish people were scattered and taken captive, their cities and temple destroyed, their land plundered, and their glory a thing of the past. Only the promise of God to send a redeemer, their Messiah, gave them any hope at all. The age of the great Kings of Israel had passed away until it could be fulfilled for all time by the One who would rise up from the seed of David.
Babylon, the head of gold, was one of the greatest kingdoms of its time. It held sway over the entire Mesopotamian region and was unsurpassed in wealth, glory, and splendor. It represented the pagan kingdom risen to the greatest heights to which man’s power could bring it. The kingdom of silver, which followed Babylon, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, was similar. It was established by Darius when he overthrew the Chaldeans. This kingdom the Lord used to show mercy to His people and to turn back their captivity under Cyrus. But God-fearing paganism is still paganism, and little true light shone out in a very darkened world. There was still so much more to order and put in place before all was ready.
The kingdom of bronze which followed was Greece, which developed new avenues of civilization and expanded their influence in the Mediterranean. Under Alexander the Great they dominated the entire known world for a time. As a result of this the Greek culture and language was spread far and wide, so that all men held culture and language in common allowing for clear communication and interaction. The kingdom of iron was Rome, known for its legions of iron. Under Rome a system of law and structure was established which instilled a peace in the kingdom that made for a stable life, but it was a peace maintained by the strength of Rome’s legions. And like all kingdoms on earth, some of it was strong, sound, and pure; but much of it was weakened by an admixture of paganism and humanism which are alien to true virtue and goodness.
So where does that bring us? It brings us to the reign of Augustus Caesar and a decree in his days that a census be taken of the entire kingdom. It brings us to the city of Bethlehem, small and of little account amount the clan of Judah, and now stretched to its limits by the influx of its sons and daughters seeking to be registered (among whom, we notice, are a carpenter from Nazareth and his very pregnant wife). it brings us to a humble stable, small, clean, a still-point in the midst of the bustle of the census. It brings us to a manger filled with straw, a feed trough for beasts of burden now turned to a higher purpose. It brings us to the fullness of time. And within the manger there lies a baby, a first-born son wrapped in swaddling clothes. But this is no ordinary baby, this is Emmanuel, the God with us of Whom the prophet spoke. And in Him, the entire scope and breadth, the beginning and ending of this earth and its ages and times have found their fullness.
This is He Who sang forth the words of creation in the beginning. This is He Who has come to save men from their sins and give them the adoption of sons. This is He Who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. This is the fullness of time and the earth could no longer be the same because of His coming. Hear the words of the prophet as he fore-sees Him in a vision. The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined…For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom... — Isaiah 9:2, 6-7
To the pagan who worshipped the things of creation instead of the Creator, He was a light that pushed back the darkness. To the Greek philosopher who sought the higher wisdom and good that always seemed to lie beyond his grasp, He was the wonderful Counselor, the fount of wisdom. To the Roman legionnaire who relied on his armor and weapons to forge a peace as best as he was able, He was the Mighty God, the literal Prince of Peace. And to the Jew, the people of promise, He was the Everlasting Father, the Deliverer who would sit on the eternal throne of His father David. To all men, in every place, in every age, He was the fullness of all that their hearts and minds and souls cried out for. This is what we have come to Bethlehem to see, travelling over long ages and epochs in human history. This is what draws us irresistibly to a stable, and we fall without reservation upon our knees before a manger filled with straw. This is why we must strive to keep Christmas every year with all our strength and heart and mind. It is literally the most important event in the history of our world; all ages preceding and those that followed find their fullness and completeness in this day. This is the day on which God visited His creation as a baby in a manger, and we have seen Him with our eyes. For this moment, at least, let us lay aside our theology, our heritage, and our social prejudices and merely be content to come and gaze upon the desire of the ages now made present in our midst. To see past, present and future, and even more so, to see eternity laid before our gaze is wondrous. To receive Him into our hearts is miraculous. Seek no more for things with which to clutter up your life; here lies the fullness of all human desire and purpose, Jesus. Receive Him anew this Christmas.