During Advent season, I sometimes picture the weary waiting of Israel for the Messiah to come and split history in two, from the age of promises to the age of fulfillment.  Seven hundred years passed, from the time when the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that the people walking in darkness would see a great light (Isaiah 9), to the night when angels filled the sky over the hills near Bethlehem.  More than four hundred years of silence passed, from the time that Malachi wrote his book of prophecy, to the time that John the Baptist emerged as the next prophet in Israel.  It’s tempting to think that Jesus arrived on the scene rather late, or that God’s lengthy silence was a bit too much.  But Scripture says, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons,” (Galatians 4:4,5, ESV).  And, “He has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself,” (Hebrews 9:26, NIV).  What was the Lord filling up, in the seemingly empty years between the Old and New Testaments?  And how was that holy night exactly the right moment for the culmination of the ages?

It is too much to cover in the time that I have – the rise and fall of multiple world-dominating empires, predicted in astonishing detail by the prophet Daniel; the movement and multiplication of the remnant of Israel into different corners of the earth; and the shift in Judaism from the Temple to the synagogue, and from sacrifices to scribes.  The world Jesus entered was fundamentally changed from the one Malachi had walked.  It was starved for a word from the heavens, and yet culturally, religiously unable to accept the Word made flesh.  This new world would carry out God’s plan to sacrifice His Son for us.  And yet, as Skip Heitzig described the world of the New Testament, “Now you have the Gospel in the most precise language ever – Greek.  Under the most ideal circumstances ever – Pax Romana, Roman enforced peace.  People who are hungrier than ever – because of Roman oppression, Medo-Persian oppression, etc.  And the Gospel going to more places than ever before [on Roman roads, with shared language, and through the meeting place of the synagogue].”  The Father hadn’t been wasting our time, but rather setting the ideal stage for the arrival of the Son and the salvation of the world.

Alicia Britt Chole writes about what God is doing in quiet years, with the imagery of a banquet: “Through course after course after course, I was not able to identify anything as ‘just a filler.’ Nothing stood out as ‘only an appetizer’ to get through, to get past, to get on with the main course that was not there yet (but was coming!). Every course – in presentation, in taste, in texture – bore the marks of a master chef. Then the obvious occurred to me: the reason no course looked like a filler was because, from the master chef’s perspective, no course was a filler. To him, every course was main.”

“…In moments when I am tempted to treat this gift called time as though it were some unfortunate filler, I hear a gentle whisper from God in my soul: ‘Child, I am the God who wastes no man’s time.  To me, every course in your life is main.’”

The timing of Jesus’ birth was completely intentional, lovingly chosen, and perfectly designed to bring the greatest blessing to us and the greatest glory to God. And so is the timing of my breakthrough, and yours.  What we have walked through this year – good, bad, and indifferent – we can know that it was not a waste of our time, but instead it was filled to the brim with purpose, carefully arranged to prepare us for the next season.  Did I allow myself to savor it, or was I looking past it to the next course?  I pray that in 2021, we will trust the hands of the Master more than ever.

For further study, check out this teaching on the Intertestamental Period, by Skip Heitzig: