To help us prepare for the Advent season and Christmas we give you excerpts from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s addresses at the General Audiences on Dec 18, 2002, and Dec 13, 2003. He proclaims that our whole life should be an ‘Advent’, and expounds on three characteristic elements of Christian Hope.
In this season of Advent, the invitation of the Prophet Isaiah accompanies us: “Say to those who are fearful of heart. Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God … will come and save you” (Is 35:4). It becomes more urgent as Christmas approaches, enriched with the exhortation to prepare our hearts to welcome the Messiah. The one awaited by the people will certainly come and his salvation will be for all.
On the Holy Night, we will again recall his birth in Bethlehem, in a certain sense, we will relive the feelings of the shepherds, their joy and their wonder. With Mary and Joseph we will contemplate the glory of the Word made flesh for our redemption. We will pray that all men may accept the new life that the Son of Man brought into the world by assuming our human nature.
Advent: get ready for final coming
The liturgy of Advent, filled with constant allusions to the joyful expectation of the Messiah, helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an “advent,” in vigilant expectation of Christ’s final coming. To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, will come one day to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of daily life. Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.
The Mystery of the Incarnation and Our Three Guides
With these sentiments, the Church prepares to contemplate in ecstasy … the mystery of the Incarnation. The Gospel recounts the conception and birth of Jesus, and reports the many providential circumstances that preceded and surrounded such a miraculous event: the angel’s annunciation to Mary, the birth of John the Baptist, the choir of angels in Bethlehem, the arrival of the Magi from the East, St Joseph’s visions. These are all signs and witnesses that highlight the divinity of this Child. In Bethlehem is born Emmanuel, God-with-us.
In the liturgy of these days, the Church offers us three outstanding “guides” to show us the proper attitude to assume in going to meet the divine “guest” of humanity. Three wonderful persons to guide us into the promised land:
First of all, Isaiah, the prophet of consolation and hope. He proclaims a true and proper Gospel for the people of Israel, enslaved in “Babylon, and urges them to remain vigilant in prayer, to recognize ‘the signs” of the coming of the Messiah.
Then there is John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah, who is presented as a “voice crying in the wilderness,” preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Mk 1:4). It is the only condition for recognizing the Messiah already present in the world.
Finally, Mary, who is this novena of preparation for Christmas, guides us towards Bethlehem. Mary is the Woman of the “yes” who, contrary to Eve, makes the plan of God her own without reservation. Thus she becomes a clear light for our steps and the highest model for our inspiration.
The First Element of Hope: Confident Expectation
Advent keeps alive our expectation of Christ who will come to visit us with his salvation, fully establishing his Kingdom of justice and peace. The annual evocation of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem renews in believers’ hearts the certainty that God keeps his promises. Advent is, therefore, a powerful proclamation of hope, which deeply touches our personal and communitarian experience.
Every man and woman dreams of a more just and supportive world where a dignified standard of life and peaceful coexistence harmonize relations between individuals and peoples. All too often, however, this is not the case. Obstacles, disputes and difficulties of various kinds burden our life and sometimes almost overwhelm it. The strength and courage required to strive for good risk yielding to evil, which seems at times to have the upper hand. It is especially at these moments that hope comes to our rescue. The mystery of Christmas … assures us that God is the Emmanuel – God-with-us. This is why we must never feel alone. He is close to us, he became one of us, born from the virginal womb of Mary. He shared our pilgrimage on earth, guaranteeing us the attainment of that joy and peace to which we aspire from the depths of our being.
The Second Element of Hope: Hardworking Willingness
The season of Advent focuses on a second element of hope which more generally concerns the meaning and value of life. We often ask ourselves: who are we, where are we going, what is the meaning of all we do on earth, what awaits us after death?
There are, certainly, good and honest objectives: the search for greater material well-being, the pursuit of ever more advanced social, scientific and economic goals, a better fulfillment of personal expectations and those of the community. But do these goals suffice to satisfy the most intimate aspirations of our soul?
The Liturgy (of Advent) invites us to broaden our vision and to contemplate the Wisdom of God that comes from the Most High and is able to reach the ends of the world, disposing all things “with gentleness and strength”. From the Christian people springs forth spontaneously the invocation: “Come, Lord, and make no delay.”
The Third Element of Hope: Joyful Openness
Lastly, a third characteristic element of Christian hope deserves emphasis, as the season of Advent makes quite clear. Advent and especially Christmas are a reminder to the person who rises above daily affairs and seeks communion with God that it was God who took the initiative of coming to meet him. In becoming a child, God assumed our human nature and established once and for all his covenant with the whole of humanity.
We can thus conclude that the meaning of Christian hope, presented anew by Advent, is that of confident expectation, of hardworking willingness and joyful openness to the encounter with the Lord. He came to Bethlehem to remain with us forever.
Let us therefore nourish these days of immediate preparation for the Birth of Christ with the light and warmth of hope, dear brothers and sisters. This is the wish I offer to you and to your loved ones; I entrust it to the motherly intercession of Mary, Model and Pillar of our hope. May we allow the Virgin to accompany us on our way toward the Lord who comes, remaining “vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise” as we make a proper preparation for the coming celebration of Christmas.
Taken from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s General Audience addresses on December 18, 2002, and December 13, 2003, as reported in the Documentation Service, a Monthly Publication on Issues Concerning Catholic Faith and Morals, Vol XVII, No. 11, November 2004.