I will never forget the moment my friend stopped preaching in mid flow and told an attentive congregation that God had just informed him someone in the church was going to work overseas as a missionary. He was right too because a little over a year later one of those listening to him did just that even though he had assured me it would never be him. He finally went along with the idea because he became convinced that God wanted him to do it and that He knows what’s best for us. This was my first encounter with what Christians know as ‘prophecy’ and it has left a lasting impression on my work as a pastor.
Winston Churchill could have identified with this experience. As his great grandson Jonathan Sandys has said Churchill firmly believed in ‘divine destiny’ and was not bashful when speaking of it either. Churchill’s conviction was based on personal experience too because in 1891 he told a fellow student that the day was coming when our country would be subjected to a tremendous invasion and that he would be called to save London and England from disaster. History proved him right of course when almost 50 years later Churchill was unexpectedly called to lead the nation through a time of crisis and to an improbable victory in 1945.
However, predicting something 50 years in advance seems ridiculously easy compared to prophesying an event some 700 years in the future, but that is exactly what happened when it comes to the birth of Jesus. The prophets Isaiah and Micah lived in the 8th century BC and yet they were able to tell their contemporaries that the day would dawn when a virgin would give birth to a child and that their future Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Now the Bethlehem prediction is particularly remarkable given the fact that Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth when Mary fell pregnant. In fact it took an unsuspecting emperor’s edict to ensure that everything happened in the way that it did! As Luke says ‘The Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home’.
This is the season known as Advent. It’s the time of the year when we are invited to take a little time out to reflect on the fact that in spite of the real dangers posed by climate change and international instability, we can rest assured that this world will not end with a ‘bang’ or a ‘whimper’ but to the sound of a trumpet when Jesus comes again. For the day is coming when those who have died in Christ will be resurrected and together with all of God’s people they will be ‘caught up’ to meet the returning Jesus in the air, like crowds flocking to meet a king or queen who is entering their city on a state visit. So be encouraged: the birth of Jesus is a reminder that God is directing the course of history and because of that it makes sense to put our trust in Him.