I am always struck by how at times certain words from Scripture suddenly emerge in my mind and keep reverberating like the words of a jingle or poem that for a while will not go away. Recently, as I was pondering the meaning of Advent and Christmas, words from Galatians 4:4 kept reappearing and caused me to wonder: “But when the fullness of time had come God sent his Son, born of a woman …so that we might receive adoption.” Though Paul was writing for recent converts to Christianity to convince them of the new dignity and freedom they received through their faith in Christ, the words “fullness of time” kept intriguing me.
What do those words mean today for us earthlings who have evolved over millennia, now live a few short decades on a tiny planet in the midst of an ever multiplying universe and believe that after death we shall live forever with our Creator in a new heaven after this present world shall have passed away? Are we too living in the “fullness of time”?
These are some of the thoughts the season of Advent reminds us as we Christians annually prepare to celebrate Christmas, an event that so changed the course of human history that world events now are largely recorded as happening before or after the event. By entering into the liturgies of Advent we are reminded of the thousands of years God’s chosen people longed for their Messiah, of the humble appearance of the earth’s Savior in our midst, and of the meaning of His life, passion and death for our salvation and transformation of the whole world before His final return. Christmas cannot be just another holiday. For Christians it encompasses the whole meaning of our lives, our faith, and God’s salvific plan for humanity and the earth. For us there will be no other time. We are in the final stages of human history since the fullness and meaning of time came to us with Christ’s birth.
How then can we fittingly prepare to commemorate and receive the unsurpassable gift that has been given us: the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”? (Lk 1: 10)
As we listen to the evening news, we may wonder if there is good news anywhere on the face of the earth. Even in our richly blessed nation there is hunger, injustice, violence, pessimism, fear of the future. Countless numbers continue to abandon faith in their God who came “so that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10) seeking fulfillment elsewhere- to their own dismay.
Fortunately, our loving God is still with us and seeks our return to the only source of true peace. As the world’s population swells, our advances in science and technology bring its sufferings to our attention. The man left beaten and dying on the road to Jericho is at our doorstep and Jesus is calling on us to follow the example of the good Samaritan. We can no longer pass by in impunity. When millions of refugees are fleeing for their lives, we cannot close our doors. The fullness of time has come for them as it has for us. What will our answer be? When we see evidence everywhere around the globe of “all creation… groaning in labor… waiting to be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” what will be our response?
Our times are changing so rapidly that our observance of Advent and preparations for celebrating Christ’s birth cannot be the same as they were even last year. The fullness of time is calling for a regenerated response from all people “on whom God’s favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) Fortunately, God’s grace has provided us with practical guidance and example for troubling times through Christ’s representative on earth, Pope Francis who reminds us of the joy that the Gospel can bring and how its tenets are ever more relevant to the pressing issues facing humanity and our endangered planet today than ever before.
A fitting preparation for Advent might be to join a study group wishing to learn from his hopeful and practical encyclicals what we can do to bring about peace and hope. Another suggestion may be to revise our Christmas gift giving. A charitable donation made to a relief organization in someone else’s name may be a more appreciated gift than expensive jewelry or candy. Taking our children to bring gifts to a homeless shelter may bring them more joy than an expensive video game. The opportunities are endless. And for ourselves an even greater gift awaits us as our Holy Father announces on December 8 the opening of a special Year of Mercy to all burdened with shame and sin. Truly, our fullness of time is now.
“Come, Lord Jesus.”