Growing up in a Christian family, I remembered Christmas as a time for presents. I was really crazy about aircraft plastic scale model kits in my later years in primary (elementary) school. I would buy them from a shop near my house. We lived in Pulau Tikus, Penang and the shop’s name was Erawan if I remember correctly. I could afford to buy the smaller kits with my pocket money but I had to ask dad and mum to buy me the bigger ones and usually they would buy them for me for Christmas. We usually bought the kits about a week before Christmas. I was allowed to keep the presents underneath my bed with strict instructions not to open them till Christmas day.
I was a good boy and I waited till Christmas day before opening my presents. Therefore I associated Christmas with waiting — waiting for the Christmas season so that I could finally get the aircraft kits I had been eyeing the whole year, and waiting for Christmas day itself so that I could finally open the kits and put together the model planes, and re-fight the Battle of Britain, or the War in the Pacific, or whatever World War Two theatre of battle the planes represented.
As I look back on those years, so long ago now, I realise that associating Christmas with waiting was good spiritual training. I often chose my Christmas gift early in the year. The year would pass too slowly. Sometimes it seemed like Christmas would never come. But it did. Waiting for dad and mum to buy me the Christmas presents I wanted taught me both the discipline of waiting and the certainty of receiving.
As we approach another Christmas, I can’t help but remember that God took His time to show up. It was only in seminary that I fully appreciated the fact that four hundred years separated the events recorded in the end of the Old Testament and the events described in the beginning of the New. Four hundred years. That’s a long time. Christ did come eventually. But God took His time. But taking His time is precisely what He does. As Paul reminds us in Galatians 4: 4-5:
But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. (NET)
God takes His time but His time is always the appropriate time. The analogy that comes to mind is the time an unborn child spends in his or her mother’s womb. From conception to birth is nine months. Anything more or less can be disastrous. The child should not be early or late. The child should be on time. God is not early or late. God is on time.
That divine timing is different from human timing is something that the apostle Peter brings out.
Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3: 8-9 NET)
We need to be utterly clear that “the divine perspective on time is not the same as the human perspective. . . Peter does not relativize time but simply affirms that the criteria for ‘rapid’ and ‘slow’ are different for humans and God. . . (Gene L. Green, Jude & 2 Peter, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008, 326.)”
What are you waiting for this Christmas? Healing for yourself or for a loved one? For your grief to begin so that it can begin to end? A fair outcome for the Allah case in Malaysia? (The court will rule soon on whether the government can bar religious groups other than Islam from using the word.) For your business to turn around? For a job? For the salvation of people you care about? For the renewal of your church? For an end to racism and corruption? For an end to the exploitation of the weak? For Jesus to come again? What are you waiting for this Christmas?
Well, we can be sure of a few things: that God knows our needs and the needs of the world. That God will act. And that He will act at the appropriate time in the best possible way. Whatever are the issues that weigh on our hearts this Christmas, let us give them to the Lord, for we know that “. . . God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand, by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5: 6-7 NET).
The presents are already under the bed. We just have to wait.