When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. These words of Paul we hear every year on New Year’s Day at the Mass for Mary the Mother of God. They are mysterious and yet full of promise which leads to hope. Often I heard St. John Paul II meditate publicly on them. They are words which can challenge us today but, even more, offer us a deeper grasp of the hope we share as disciples of Christ.
What does fullness of time mean? Why were the early years of the Roman empire the fullness of time for the birth of Jesus? Is it just rhetoric or is there a message in it? I’d like to suggest to you that we think a bit about the first reading and the Gospel. Baruch the Prophet is associated with Jeremiah who lived in the 7th century BC. But the book which was just read to us comes much later barely more than 100 years before the birth of Christ. Between Jeremiah’s sufferings and Baruch’s book much has happened. Gradually within Israel there is a growing sense that the Torah and the prophets are pointing out not just the past but the future. That future includes a person, a Messiah, one anointed by God for the salvation of God’s people. Jerusalem, put on the splendor of glory forever…up, Jerusalem stand before the heights…God is leading Israel in joy, by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company! Hardly a lamentation. Rather there is a growing sense of expectation, a hope for the future and gradually the Chosen People are looking and expecting not just a new era but a Chosen One of God to lead them into a new age of joy and peace.
Luke in the Gospel is very formal: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee…during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zachariah in the desert! The scholars like your pastor can debate the chronology. What is important for us is that Luke wants to situate the coming of the true Messiah in a specific time and a specific place with real people of political and religious leadership. Yet whom does God send? God calls one whose task is to prepare the way through calling people to repentance and conversion; prepare the way so that all flesh shall see the salvation of our God!
My friends, we stand on the other side of those moments. But is there not a beautiful panorama spread out before us to show us how God, ever faithful to His people, has seen to it that His plan for our salvation came to fruition through times, both good and bad, until, in ways only God fully knows, the time was ripe, the world had reached a certain point and the Chosen People had begun to grasp a new hope, a new expectation, and a hazy but real readiness for God’s full plan! In the fullness of time God sent his Son born of a woman to redeem all of humankind.
Baruch could not have predicted how awesome would be God’s gift, the gift of His Son, born of a woman who gave to the Son of God her human nature. The political leaders named in the Gospel were totally unaware of what a strange figure in the Judean desert was doing to prepare the way. But they who saw themselves as the epitome of power and might were in reality bit players, part of the chorus, the backdrop to the fullness of time.
The major player is John. Yes John! Proclaiming baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin: prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight his paths…all flesh shall see the salvation of our God! Only God knows fully why that period constitutes the fullness of time. But we know who prepared it and we know that the message of John today is as valid as it was in his own day. We know the importance of repentance and conversion. And if we might tend to overlook it more recently in our daily lives, our Holy Father has given us this great gift of the Jubilee of Mercy, calling us to a renewal of our lives and a conversion of hearts to be ourselves MERCIFUL AS OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS MERCIFUL. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s this Tuesday and I will have the privilege of opening the Holy Door at St. Agnes Cathedral on Saturday evening at the 5 pm Mass. Subsequently the three auxiliary bishops will each open the holy door of one of the other three places of pilgrimage for our Diocese: The Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, the Shrine of OL of the Isle, and the Basilica of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
My dear friends, I am personally eager and excited for this Jubilee. I am filled with gratitude to Pope Francis for having given the Church this Jubilee of Mercy. I pray and will continue to pray every day that each of us and all of us will be the recipients of the merciful, forgiving and healing love of God in this coming year. Equally do I pray that we will all become instruments of God’s mercy to our families, our neighbors, our parishioners and especially the poor, the needy and the suffering.
We stand on the redeemed side of the fullness of time. We have seen the salvation of our God. It is not a book, not an action, not a deed, not a monument. Our salvation is a Person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God who will be born once again this Christmas in our hearts and our lives. With St. Paul I say to you: I am confident in this that the one who began the good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. And this is MY prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. Amen.