Tertio Millennio Adveniente
Toward the Third Millennium

APOSTOLIC LETTER
TERTIO MILLENNIO ADVENIENTE
OF HIS HOLINESS
POPE JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS, CLERGY
AND LAY FAITHFUL
ON PREPARATION
FOR THE JUBILEE OF THE YEAR 2000

To the Bishops,
Priests and Deacons,
Men and Women Religious
and all the Lay Faithful

1. As the third millennium of the new era draws near, our thoughts turn spontaneously to the words of the Apostle Paul: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman" (Gal 4:4). The fullness of time coincides with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, of the Son who is of one being with the Father, and with the mystery of the Redemption of the world. In this passage, Saint Paul emphasizes 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. And he adds: "Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!' " His conclusion is truly comforting: "So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Gal 4:6-7).

Paul's presentation of the mystery of the Incarnation contains the revelation of the mystery of the Trinity and the continuation of the Son's mission in the mission of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of the Son of God, his conception and birth, is the prerequisite for the sending of the Holy Spirit. This text of Saint Paul thus allows the fullness of the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation to shine forth.

I

"JESUS CHRIST
IS THE SAME YESTERDAY AND TODAY"
(Heb 13:8)

2. In his Gospel Luke has handed down to us a concise narrative of the circumstances of Jesus' birth: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled ... And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (2:1, 3-7).

Thus was fulfilled what the Angel Gabriel foretold at the Annunciation, when he spoke to the Virgin of Nazareth in these words: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (1:28). Mary was troubled by these words, and so the divine messenger quickly added: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High ... The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (1:32-33, 35). Mary's reply to the angel was unhesitating: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (1:38). Never in human history did so much depend, as it did then, upon the consent of one human creature.(1)

3. John, in the Prologue of his Gospel, captures in one phrase all the depth of the mystery of the Incarnation. He writes: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (1:14). For John, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, of one being with the Father, took place in the conception and birth of Jesus. The Evangelist speaks of the Word who in the beginning was with God, and through whom everything which exists was made; the Word in whom was life, the life which was the light of men (cf. 1:1-4). Of the Only-Begotten Son, God from God, the Apostle Paul writes that he is "the first-born of all creation" (Col 1:15). God created the world through the Word. The Word is Eternal Wisdom; the Thought and Substantial Image of God; "He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature" (Heb 1:3). Eternally begotten and eternally loved by the Father, as God from God and Light from Light, he is the principle and archetype of everything created by God in time.

The fact that in the fullness of time the Eternal Word took on the condition of a creature gives a unique cosmic value to the event which took place in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Thanks to the Word, the world of creatures appears as a "cosmos", an ordered universe. And it is the same Word who, by taking flesh, renews the cosmic order of creation. The Letter to the Ephesians speaks of the purpose which God had set forth in Christ, "as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (1:9-10).

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