As the world exited the 20th century and entered into the new millenium, there was a great cloud of anxiety hanging about the world. People were worried about Y2K, a bug in the computer coding and carding systems that would cause everything to re-set, and many watched with abated breath as the world made its countdown on New Year’s Eve 1999 to New Year’s Day 2000.
What happened then? 1st January 2000 – the world was still around, alive, and business carried on as usual.
To address the challenges of the ensuing Millenium, Pope, now Saint, John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter – Tertio Millennio Adveniente (1994). In it, an exhortation to trust that Jesus was and is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The letter opens with an unpacking of the words of St. Paul in Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman” (Galatians 4:4). The Christological implication of this statement is such – God, who made time, and who is sovereign over time, sent His Son, Jesus, to be made humble and subject to time in the mystery of the Incarnation. Pre-Resurrection, Jesus who is fully God and fully man, had to abide to chronology and history as would any other man. What a wondrous thought, that the “Son of God was born of woman, born under the Law, and came into the world in order to redeem all who were under the Law, so that they might receive adoption as sons and daughters. ” (Pope John Paul II, 1994, Para 1) The words, “fullness of time” tell us that this did not happen by any coincidence, but was a well-thought out plan designed by God our Father Himself, so as to seek out His children -us, who had strayed away from Him.
Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, (c.f. Revelation 21:6) the beginning and end, is Himself, the Lord of time and history, and entering into time, God who is eternity, fulfils time. His coming had been foretold throughout Salvation History in the words of the prophets, but now, Jesus who is the Word, is present, not merely to speak about God, but is God Himself “speaking in his Eternal Word made flesh”. (Pope John Paul II, 1994, para 6.) Accordingly, man has always sought out the divine, but now we see the Love of God made manifest in the person of Christ, as God actively seeks out His own. The mystery of the Incarnation thus gives a glimpse of the Eternity who is God, and also the mystery of the Holy Trinity as revealed in the Person of God – Jesus. Jesus thus, comes to fulfil not only the messianic promise that had been given to Abraham, of which the Old Testament was present to herald the coming of Christ, but is also the new beginning and the new covenant between God and His people. “The Incarnate Word is thus the fulfilment of the yearning present in all the religions of mankind: this fulfilment is brought about by God himself and transcends all human expectations. It is the mystery of grace. In Christ, religion is no longer a “blind search for God” (c.f. Acts 17:27) but the response of faith to God who reveals himself. ” (John Paul II, 1994, para 6-7)
The conceit of time has often mystified and fascinated humanity. The mystery of God is also unfolding in the dimension of time – in the Creation of life and the world (c.f. Genesis 1), in Salvation History, through the generations in genealogy (c.f. Matthew 1), and is finally fulfilled in Christ. According to Pope John Paul II, “Thanks to God’s coming on earth, human time, which began at Creation, has reached its fullness. “The fullness of time” is in fact eternity, indeed, it is the One who is eternal, God himself. Thus, to enter into “the fullness of time” means to reach the end of time and to transcend its limits, in order to find time’s fulfilment in the eternity of God.” (1994, para. 9) The Bible begins with the story of Genesis and gives us a paradisical insight into God’s plan of living and walking together with humanity in the Garden of Eden. Eden while attributed traditionally to a fertile plain in Southern Mesopotamia, where modern Iraq is located, may be better undertood in terms of its etymology – in Sumerian “eden” as “fertile plain”, and in Hebrew, a similar sounding word, “delight”, leading to the Greek translation, “The Lord God, planted a paradise (delight) in Eden”(United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, n.d.). Today, as we live in the fulfilment of time, Jesus is living among us – at the Blessed Sacrament, on the altar of the Eucharist, and in tabernacles found in churches all over the world, as an extension of His earthly ministry, and as a foretaste of how we would be spending Eternity with God who is the “Ancient of Days” and the “Great I Am”.
Living thus, in an era of the “fullness of time”, we are exhorted with a Christian duty and purpose to live life in a sanctified manner, and with a sacred call to purify and make holy the seasons and times that we live in. Time is a gift that has been given to us by the One who made time. This is why the Church sets apart the days with liturgical seasons and years, the celebrations of Solemnities, and the placing of as highly important, the observance and the celebration of the Lord’s Day on Sunday. To this end, the Church also joins in in unified prayer through the Divine Office, where the hours of the day are sanctified; we recall the Lord and invite the Lord into our ordinary everyday. St. Paul encourages us, “With all prayer and supplication, pray at all times in the spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverence and supplication for the holy ones.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Pope John Paul II writes that the celebration of the Jubilee of every 7 years was significant. for they were special set-apart times dedicated to God. The Jubilees were also, “prophetia futuri insofar as they foretold the freedom which would be won by the coming Messiah.” (Pope John Paull II, 1994, para. 13) Jesus begins his public ministry by proclaiming the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Isaiah 61:1-2). Pope John Paul II comments, ‘”Today”, Jesus added, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), thus indicating that he himself was the Messiah foretold by the Prophet, and that the long-expected “time” was beginning in him. The day of salvation had come, the “fullness of time”. All Jubilees point to this “time” and refer to the Messianic mission of Christ, who came as the one “anointed” by the Holy Spirit, the one “sent by the Father”. It is he who proclaims the good news to the poor. It is he who brings liberty to those deprived of it, who frees the oppressed and gives back sight to the blind (cf. Matthew 11:4-5; Luke 7:22). In this way he ushers in “a year of the Lord’s favour”, which he proclaims not only with his words but above all by his actions.’ (Pope John Paul II, 1994, para. 11)
So what are we to make out of this today? Today in the throngs of global pandemic, A.D. 2021, 3 cycles of Jubilee years have passed by. This year, we celebrate the third Jubilee year after the Great Jubilee of A.D. 2000. In some ways, as each Jubilee has shown, this year invites us to reset and focus on God’s providence. The year of the Jubilee, in Jewish tradition signifies a time of great rejoicing as the needs of the poor are provided for, and it is a year that shows us clearly how justice is administered to all who had been wronged. This year, there is greater weight in how we celebrate the restoration of social justice and proclaim once again the dignity of the person, the solidarity between all persons, rich and poor, and the stewardship that has been given to us by God who is the Creator of the creation that He has entrusted us with. Ravaged by the pandemic, many businesses had to shut down or pivot, while the world is still reeling and struggling through the financial crisis, unemployment, mental detriment and anxiety as brought about by the pandemic. Yet, the Jubilee Year provides us with a certain hope – as put forth in the Easter Exultation, and the Blessing of the Easter Candle: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages, to him be glory and power through every age for ever”. Christ is sovereign and Christ knows what He is doing behind the scenes. These past two years of A. D. 2020 and A.D. 2021 have been terribly difficult, but the constant is Jesus, and He is doing something for us this Jubilee Year. Something beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations. As the words, “Anno Domini” – “In the Lord’s year” assure us, Jesus is in control of what is unfolding in the here and now, as with all that is the past, the present, and the future. As the world struggles, what can we do as Christians to celebrate this Jubilee Year? We must bring this same message of hope that Jesus starts His ministry with – “…he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and the opening of the prison to whose who are bound.” (Isaiah 61: 1-2) Even in the pandemic, this year is an undeniable Jubilee Year, and in faith, we trust that the Lord God is doing something amazing for us.
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Pope John Paul II. (1994, November 10). Tertio Millennio Adveniente. Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.). Footnote Commentary on Genesis. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved August 6, 2021, from https://bible.usccb.org/bible/genesis/2