A Long Time Coming
Which is more likely to arrive? An angel? Or a bus? We're pretty well provided for with buses in central London, though in an age of instant satisfaction we really don't like waiting, for buses or anything else.
This year has tested that with a vengeance. Waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to come to an end has wearied most of us and proved a very uncomfortable, sometimes painful, experience. With mass vaccination on the way, an end seems to be in sight. But it's not here yet and our patience has worn thin.
So imagine being a Jew before the birth of Jesus. Jews had been waiting many centuries for God to fulfil a promise to them. And then an angel turns up.
The promise was hinted at from the time of Adam, made clearer to Abraham and then David, though there was still a lot to be understood. A prophet called Isaiah added to the expectation, but it is remarkable that seven hundred years later there were still Jewish men and women who had not given up waiting for something to happen. Even more astonishing, they were proved right.
When Gabriel made the dramatic announcement to Mary that she would give birth even though she was still a virgin, this was God keeping his word. The baby, Jesus, had come to do everything that God had said he would. He came to a broken world full of people who needed saving from God's judgement. He was God's answer to that need. And our world today is no different.
So if the 1st century baby is truly from God, fulfilling his promise, then there's a 21st century relevance for you. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you might not think so. Isn't it 'just a story', for example? Don't be too quick to dismiss it. There are clear historical records in the gospels which are worth considering. Most of the scepticism about them comes from people who have started from the premise that they can't be true, which hardly seems fair.
And if Christians are right, the story isn't over. God is working out his plan through history and hasn't finished yet. We don't know when, but he does intend to judge our actions and our hearts eventually and Jesus is the person who will dispense his justice. The question is, will you be ready?
'Jesus is coming, look busy' say the T-shirts, making fun of the expectation that he will actually return one day. What they mean is, 'You've waited so long, but it's never going to happen. It's about time you gave up'. The background to Jesus' birth at Bethlehem suggests that they shouldn't be so impatient. Yes, he's been a long time coming ... but that's nothing new.
If you want to read the Jesus story for yourself, starting with his birth, try Luke's gospel at biblegateway.com