Last updated on November 28, 2021
John Paul II launched Advent in 1998 with “Let us go joyfully to meet the Lord,” the Responsorial psalm refrain for Mass. He used this refrain as well to lead the Church toward the approaching Jubilee in 2000:
“Let us go joyfully to meet the Lord” is a refrain perfectly in tune with the Jubilee…We can meet God because he has reached out to us. God comes to us whether we have sought him, ignored him and or even avoided him. He reaches out to us first, his arms open wide like a loving and merciful father.
If God is moved to reach out to us, can we turn our backs on him?
Exactly twenty-two years from the day of John Paul II’s Advent homily, we enter Advent with Isaiah in Sunday’s first reading. Although a deep sorrow for sin weighs on the people of God, their yearning emanates from every word with a cry for God to rescue them.
Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence. We have all withered like leaves, and our crimes carry us away like the wind. Yet, Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you, our potter: we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be so very angry, Lord, do not remember our crimes forever; look upon us, who are all your people! (Isaiah 63: 19; 5-7; 8)
The Church, twenty years into the new millennium, sounds a lot like the people of God in Isaiah’s time. Many seem to carry the yoke of worry and anxiety borne from prolonged exposure to news headlines flooding their thoughts with an interpretation of events far removed from the Good News of the Gospel. Perhaps many are weighed by the pinch of the times, or personal tragedy.
Yet, in his Advent homily, this great saint saw the events leading to the new millennium in this way:
“We can interpret the Church’s 2,000-year history in this perspective. It is comforting to note how, in this passage from the second to the third millennium, the Church is experiencing a fresh missionary impulse.”
A “fresh missionary impulse” means Jesus is once again sending forth a new and overpowering wave of fire and love across the world, casting a net as wide as east is from west to catch us and haul us into his kingdom of joy.
Have we given ourselves freely? To be caught or be sent? Both can happen at the same time. Or have we allowed our hearts to become weighed by a preoccupation with hopeless interpretations of events. Those interpretations, needing no outside help, often come from inside, if we don’t cling to the One born in Bethlehem to the Virgin who gave us her Magnificat to help us go joyfully through the darkness.
I have a vivid recollection of Pope John Paul II’s three year preparation for the jubilee of 2000, the first year dedicated to the Son, the second to the Holy Spirit, and the third, 1999 to the Father.
He also wrote his Apostolic Letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, which the entire world needed to read because of its pervasive preoccupation with false prophecies of doom, cataclysmic events, and a coming chastisement from God.
The pope’s letter became the focus of preparation for my grade 7&8 students for the great jubilee, many of whom had little or no awareness of the meaning of jubilee.
Pope John Paul II:
The term “Jubilee” speaks of joy; not just an inner joy but a jubilation which is manifested outwardly, for the coming of God is also an outward, visible, audible and tangible event, as Saint John makes clear (cf. 1 Jn 1:1). It is thus appropriate that every sign of joy at this coming should have its own outward expression. This will demonstrate that the Church rejoices in salvation. She invites everyone to rejoice, and she tries to create conditions to ensure that the power of salvation may be shared by all. Hence the Year 2000 will be celebrated as the Great Jubilee. (Tertio Millennio Adveniente: 16)
Every generation from Christ’s Resurrection has heard the psalm refrain, ” Let us go joyfully to meet the Lord.”
Why do we go joyfully?
Because Jesus, who told us there is nothing to be afraid of, showed us by his death and resurrection that there is no cause for worry. We have two millennia of witnesses who went joyfully to meet Jesus and who experienced an apparent annihilation. Three of my favourites are St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Thomas More, and St Jean de Brebeuf.
The first witnesses heard Jesus tell them how brutal it would be for them in the months and years ahead, describing a pending cataclysm.
Jesus started his discourse by interrupting a group in the temple who were commenting on its beauty, telling them of the temple’s destruction, wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, fearful omens, and great signs. (Luke 21:9-11)
The Gospel doesn’t give us their initial reaction, but it’s doubtful they received it joyfully. He added more,
“Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name…You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.” (Luke 21:12-19).
Throughout his warning, he told them in his usual manner not to worry or be afraid,“…do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”
It’s easy to get terrified and dismayed at such revelation, but Jesus was taking them and is taking us toward the Good News of the final wild and scary events surrounding the coming of the Son of Man.
I much prefer listening to Jesus tell me about approaching terror than today’s journalists, experts, and some Christians I’ve encountered.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Luke 21: 25-26)
Listen to Him attentively with love, a deep and affectionate love you’ve nourished through prayer because he is your Saviour who is protecting every hair on your head.
“But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)
I have next my heart the advice of many saints. One stands out from Catherine Doherty:
“Prayer is twofold. Not only does God give us the grace to believe and ask for help, but He also draws us to Himself more surely than anything we can imagine. Our prayer and the desire for God come together in a brief moment of union, which only whets our desire for more. It is an insatiable taste of that which we seek–union with God. It will give us the courage to say yes to the next devastating situation that comes along.” (from Soul of My Soul)
That word from Catherine has huge significance for me since it’s on the May 12 page of the desktop calendar, Moments Of Grace. May 12 is my birthday.
How To Stay Awake And Go Joyfully
Jesus closed his discourse with a readiness game plan for that “great day,” which he told us, will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the earth. He called us to pray constantly so that we stand secure and confident before Him.
The Church has taken us through a marvellous preparation for Advent, providing beautiful readings at Mass from the Book of Revelation. Almost every day for two weeks, we heard the opening words, “I, John…” and in every reading, the Father’s magnificent concluding victory over Satan’s grip shone like the sun in our minds.
Advent takes us toward the birth of our Saviour at Christmas, but it also draws our attention away from Bethlehem toward the final and jubilant return of Christ in glory, for which He was born.
In the Gospel, for the first Sunday of Advent, we heard Jesus, with so much love, tell us to stay awake and be ready.
“Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the lord of the house is coming. Whether in the evening or at midnight, or cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” (Mark 13:35-37)
We all long for him, so it’s easy to stay awake if we use the best tool we have to satisfy that longing, prayer.
Through prayer, he comes to us; we experience his presence in such a way that we pray more and desire to be with Him and live for Him more. We stay awake.
Awake with Him every day, and even at night asleep, we find ourselves more joyful, hopeful, unafraid. Jesus lifts the yoke of the day’s worries over tragic events and places his light and easy yoke on our shoulders.
We have to take Him seriously when He asks, “Why are you terrified.” He has given us all the evidence we need to trust that He will take care of things. He does; when we begin surfing the wave of our insatiable thirst for his love, we encounter him surfing with us, giving us a joy that comes only from knowing he is there with us. We notice we are no longer terrified.
He will also help us loosen our tight and fearful grip on this life, even the holy things of this life, like marriage and family, work and play, so that we cling to Him alone, the giver of those gifts.
If we have experienced the loss of those precious gifts in whatever way, our hope will remain unshaken if we’ve been clinging to the One who is building an eternal kingdom where no tear shall ever fall again.
John Paul II closed his 1998 Advent homily by pointing to the Lord’s final and glorious coming at the end of time.
[Advent], therefore, has a distinctly eschatological meaning and invites the believer to spend every day and every moment in the presence of the One “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rv 1:4), to whom the future of the world and man belongs. This is Christian hope! Without this prospect, our existence would be reduced to living for death.
“Let us go joyfully to meet him” will be our day to day refrain if we persevere in prayer and trust. He will come.
By our perseverance, we will not only stand erect but praise the One who raised us to be erect.
Let us unite our hearts in prayer to St. John Paul II who, 22 years ago November 29, the beginning of Advent, said to the whole world,
“Let us go joyfully, then! Let us walk with joy and watchfulness, as we wait for the season that recalls God’s coming in human flesh, a time which reached its fullness when Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem. It is then that the time of waiting was fulfilled.”