One of my favorite Scriptures to reflect upon in this season of Advent as we celebrate the birth of Christ is not found in the traditional birth narratives of Matthew or Luke but in the fourth chapter of Galatians, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, bornof a woman, born under the Law.” (NASB). EugenePeterson translates “the fullness of time” this way, “when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son…” The word translated as “fullness” carries with it the image of all that something can contain and a sense of completion and accomplishment. The word translated for time is chronos, a word that implies a long period of time. It refers to a stream of history that enables us to see God at work in history, independent of human influence. The fullness of time is the perfect timing for the perfect gift of the Christ child.
There is another word used more often in scripture to describe time and that is kairos. Itmeans a particular moment or literally a significant opportunity, especially the right moment to describe an encounter between God and an individual.
Today, we live at the intersection of chronos and kairos, a time and opportunity unparalled in the twenty centuries since that first century world in which the divine became flesh and dwelled among us. We are living in a “hinge of history” and if we filter out the noise of our world and listen carefully, we can hear the hinge creaking as an ancient/future door is opening.
The conditions of the 21st century mirror those of the first century. In terms of geography, technology has given us the equivalent of the Roman road system as the world becomes more mobile and inter-connected. Economically, once again trade has expanded across continents, shrinking the world and creating new wealth as well as new poverty. Politically, the city states and democracy of the first century Roman and Greek worlds find all kinds of expression today in the geo-political re-configuration that is occurring among nations and cultures. The first century social structure with its divisions of caste and class, slave and master, and multiple ethnicities is reflected in the 21st century social Diaspora of people being redistributed around the world, the migration to the urban centers of the world, the shift from oikos to the rise of the 21st century network, and the widening gap between rich and poor. The first century religious pluralism with its idols, cults and false gods is equal to the 21st century rise of religious diversity and people’s eternal search for the one and true God.
God is re-shaping our world for His purpose and that includes re-shaping His Church.
First century churches were counter to the popular culture. While they understood the culture very well, they did not adopt it. Churches in the 21st century are increasingly focused on mission and Kingdom purpose. They reach the lost, disciple the found and plant new churches. They make a difference in their community and beyond. They are focused on helping people engage in a process of life transformation. Like first century churches, they emphasize a relationship (Jesus Christ is Lord!) rather than a religion. They are Spirit led, seeking to join God’s agenda and prayer is their source of power. They engender a sense of authentic community and call for a radical commitment 24/7 rather than a single day of the week.
Capturing this moment of intersection between kairos and chronos requires change. It requires new wineskins for this 21st century wine. We must choose between being driven to the future by fear or being drawn to the future by a vision of the new that God is creating. The angels that appeared first to Mary and later the shepherds brought a message not only of great joy but a declaration of “fear not.”
In this season of celebration so often filled with presents and parties and surrounded by family and friends, may we seek to honor the fullness of God’s timing in our lives and in the life of our churches with His gracious and perfect gift, the Christ.