January 1, 1611. This date is roughly 400 years ago. At that time, the original pilgrims were still a decade away from coming to the “new land” and settling Plymouth Bay Colony. 100% of the United States history beyond that of the Native Americans was yet to be written. On January 1, 1611, a full Bible did not exist in the English language (the King James Bible would go to print later that year). Think of all the history and all the changes the past 400 years have brought!
400 years is a very long time. Placing an actual date to 400 years and counting back adds needed perspective to this denomination of time. From a Biblical perspective, grasping how long 400 years is really helps us better understand the Christmas story. What do I mean by this?
The last Old Testament book written was the book of Malachi. It was written after the nation of Israel returned from exile in foreign lands in the early 400’s BC. After God spoke to His people through Malachi, He went silent for the next 400 years. After speaking regularly through prophets in every generation from Abraham to Malachi, 400 years of silence transpire in what is known as the “inter-testamental” period of time (the time from the end of the Old Testament books to the beginning of the New Testament). When you hear that there were 400 years of silence in Hebrew history courses, you sometime fail to grasp just how long a period of time that was. Looking back 400 years from today helps us realize how many generations of people lived their lives wondering if God had abandoned them. Did His silence mean that He was no longer going to bring His Messiah to them to deliver them from their sins? Did His silence mean that something had changed regarding God’s promises.
Now, many reading this may want to argue that it has been 2000 years since ANY Scripture has been written. The recent silence from God may seem far more dramatic than the inter-testamental period. This simple observation, however, is unfounded. The Old Testament POINTED to the coming of Christ, and God had reaffirmed His promises to each generation through new generations of prophets up to the time of Malachi. The silence actually indicated a change that could have been interpreted as a NEGATIVE change. Since Jesus actually came in the New Testament time as a full revelation of God’s plan, there now is no longer a need for Scripture to continue to be written. God has been consistent in ceasing His prophetic communication in the writing of Scripture since the end of the first century. The lack of new Scripture today is a POSITIVE, reminding us that Christ is the final and full revelation of all we really need to know.
Now, understanding this, we should be shockingly surprised (as Mary was) when the Angel shows up in Mary’s room and tells her that she will miraculously conceive a Son who will be the Savior of the world. We should be startled by the whisper of the Angel to Zechariah in the Temple that he will have a son who will prepare the way for the Lord. We should be startled at these words because they broke a period of prolonged silence. 400 years of silence, broken with a renewed promise of a Savior. What is particularly great about when God broke the silence is that He broke it saying that the Savior was going to come in 9 months!!! Generations had strained to see the day when Messiah would come, now it was only three trimesters from delivery.
Many times when we read the Christmas story, we read it thinking of Mary or Joseph . . . Zechariah or Elizabeth. Today as you think about this story, think about it from a 400 year perspective. God broke the silence with fantastic good news.
Do you feel like you are living in an era of “silence” from the Lord today? Do you wonder if He has forgotten you because you have not “heard” from Him in a while? This Christmas listen closely. God broke the silence at the birth of Christ and He wants to whisper to us through this story today, reminding us of His great love for us.