Incarnationis Mysterium
Mystery of the Incarnation

JOHN PAUL BISHOP
SERVANT OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD
TO ALL THE FAITHFUL
JOURNEYING TOWARDS THE THIRD MILLENNIUM
HEALTH AND THE APOSTOLIC BLESSING

1. Contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Church prepares to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium. Never more than at this time do we feel the need to make our own the Apostle's hymn of praise and thanksgiving: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will... For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1:3-5, 9-10).

These words clearly indicate that in Jesus Christ the history of salvation finds its culmination and ultimate meaning. In him, we have all received "grace upon grace" (Jn 1:16), having been reconciled with the Father (cf. Rom 5:10; 2 Cor 5:18).

The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is not an event which can be consigned to the past. The whole of human history in fact stands in reference to him: our own time and the future of the world are illumined by his presence. He is "the Living One" (Rev 1:18), "who is, who was and who is to come" (Rev 1:4). Before him every knee must bend, in the heavens, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that he is Lord (cf. Phil 2:10-11). In the encounter with Christ, every man discovers the mystery of his own life.(1)

Jesus is the genuine newness which surpasses all human expectations and such he remains for ever, from age to age. The Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation which he has accomplished by his Death and Resurrection are therefore the true criterion for evaluating all that happens in time and every effort to make life more human.

2. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is almost upon us. Ever since my first Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, I have looked towards this occasion with the sole purpose of preparing everyone to be docile to the working of the Spirit.(2) The event will be celebrated simultaneously in Rome and in all the particular Churches around the world, and it will have, as it were, two centres: on the one hand, the City where Providence chose to place the See of the Successor of Peter, and on the other hand, the Holy Land, where the Son of God was born as man, taking our flesh from a Virgin whose name was Mary (cf. Lk 1:27). With equal dignity and significance, therefore, the Jubilee will be celebrated not only in Rome but also in the Land which is rightly called "Holy" because it was there that Jesus was born and died. That Land, in which the first Christian community appeared, is the place where God revealed himself to humanity. It is the Promised Land which has so marked the history of the Jewish People, and is revered by the followers of Islam as well. May the Jubilee serve to advance mutual dialogue until the day when all of us together — Jews, Christians and Moslems — will exchange the greeting of peace in Jerusalem.(3)

The period of the Jubilee introduces us to the vigorous language which the divine pedagogy of salvation uses to lead man to conversion and penance. These are the beginning and the path of man's healing, and the necessary condition for him to recover what he could never attain by his own strength: God's friendship and grace, the supernatural life which alone can bring fulfilment to the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

The coming of the Third Millennium prompts the Christian community to lift its eyes of faith to embrace new horizons in proclaiming the Kingdom of God. It is imperative therefore at this special time to return more faithfully than ever to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which shed new light upon the missionary task of the Church in view of the demands of evangelization today. At the Council, the Church became more deeply conscious both of the mystery which she herself is and of the apostolic mission entrusted to her by the Lord. This awareness commits the community of believers to live in the world knowing that they must be "the leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society, destined to be renewed in Christ and transformed into the family of God".(4) In order to meet this commitment effectively, the Church must persevere in unity and grow in the life of communion.(5) The imminent approach of the Jubilee offers a powerful stimulus in this direction.

The journey of believers towards the Third Millennium is in no way weighed down by the weariness which the burden of two thousand years of history could bring with it. Rather, Christians feel invigorated, in the knowledge that they bring to the world the true light, Christ the Lord. Proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth, true God and perfect Man, the Church opens to all people the prospect of being "divinized" and thus of becoming more human.(6) This is the one path which can lead the world to discover its lofty calling and to achieve it fully in the salvation wrought by God.

3. Responding to my Letter incarnatio Millennio Adveniente,(7) the particular Churches during these years of immediate preparation for the Jubilee are getting ready, through prayer, catechesis and pastoral action of different kinds, for this celebration which is leading the whole Church into a new time of grace and mission. The approach of the Jubilee is also evoking growing interest among those who are searching for a favourable sign to help them discern the traces of God's presence in our time.

The years of preparation for the Jubilee have been placed under the sign of the Most Holy Trinity: through Christ — in the Holy Spirit — to God the Father. In the mystery of the Trinity, the journey of faith has its origin and its final goal, when at last our eyes will contemplate the face of God for ever. In celebrating the Incarnation, we fix our gaze upon the mystery of the Trinity. Jesus of Nazareth, who reveals the Father, has fulfilled the desire hidden in every human heart to know God. What creation preserved as a seal etched in it by the creative hand of God and what the ancient Prophets had announced as a promise is disclosed in the revelation of Christ.(8)

Jesus reveals the face of God the Father "compassionate and merciful" (Jas 5:11), and with the sending of the Holy Spirit he makes known the mystery of love which is the Trinity. It is the Spirit of Christ who is at work in the Church and in history: we must listen to him in order to recognize the signs of the new times and to make the expectation of the glorified Lord's return ever more vibrant in the hearts of the faithful. The Holy Year must therefore be one unceasing hymn of praise to the Trinity, the Most High God. At this point, the poetic words of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, the Theologian, come to our aid:

"Glory to God the Father and to the Son, King of the universe. Glory to the Spirit, worthy of praise and all holy. The Trinity is one God who created and filled all things: the heavens with heavenly beings, the earth with creatures of earth, the sea, the rivers and springs with creatures of the waters, giving life to all things by his Spirit, that all creatures might sing the praises of their wise Creator, who alone gives life and sustains all life in being.

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