But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. [Galatians 4:4 (NLT)]
When an angel of the Lord told the elderly priest Zechariah that his barren wife, Elizabeth, would conceive a son, the old man was struck dumb because of his unbelief. As happened with Samuel more than 1,000 years earlier, this child’s future was decided even before his conception. This time, however, it was God who decided the boy would be a Nazirite, have the spirit and power of Elijah, prepare the people for the coming of the Lord, and be named John. Imagine the mute Zechariah, with gestures and writing, trying to explain his supernatural encounter to Elizabeth and her reaction to his shocking news.
As strange as God’s timing must have seemed to the elderly Elizabeth, God’s timing probably seemed even stranger to Elizabeth’s cousin, a young virgin in Nazareth named Mary. While Elizabeth’s unexpected pregnancy seemed late in coming, Mary’s must have seemed terribly premature to her and her betrothed, a carpenter named Joseph. Nevertheless, both of these unexpected pregnancies were part of God’s enigmatic plan and came at exactly the right time, at least for Him.
We don’t know why God chose that particular time in history for the births of John and Jesus. Did God pick it because He had the right people to be the parents he needed? The priest and his wife were “righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations,” [Luke 1:6] which certainly qualified them as a prophet’s parents. For the parents of Jesus, God needed a both a virgin and lineage to King David. Rather than glowing words to describe Mary, we only have the virgin’s obedient and willing response. Risking rejection, disgrace, and even stoning, she willingly offered herself as God’s vessel. As for Joseph, he was a righteous man, of the house of David, and, like Mary, obedient to the Lord. Perhaps God chose that time because conditions were favorable for the start of a ministry: there was peace in the empire, Greek had become the universal language, an excellent road system enabled easy travel, and a postal service existed. Was it a perfect combination of both people and conditions? We’ll never know; we only know that the time was right for God.
Nevertheless, I’m sure God’s timing didn’t make much sense to either woman. For Elizabeth, God seemed late and, for Mary, He seemed way too early. Let us remember, however, that God is neither late nor early; He’s always right on time!
In the infinite wisdom of the Lord of all the earth, each event falls with exact precision into its proper place in the unfolding of His divine plan. Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without His ordering, or without its particular fitness for its place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise. [B.B. Warfield]