Experience the Joy of His Coming by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The crowds asked John the Baptist, "What should we do?" He said to them in reply, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He answered them, "Stop collecting more than what is prescribed." Soldiers also asked him, "And what is it that we should do?" He told them, "Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages."
Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, "I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier that I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.
The summer before I entered the seminary, I traveled in Europe with a brother in Youth Apostles, a backpack and a Euro-rail pass. It was a privileged opportunity to visit a variety of places of great historical, cultural, culinary and religious significance in Western Europe. One definitive highlight from that pilgrimage was our visit to Rome and the chance to encounter Pope John Paul II at a Wednesday audience.
Our preparations for the audience began with contacting a priest in Rome in advance to arrange for tickets to the audience which were, by the grace of God, in the front section. We also received instructions on what time to show up, exactly where to enter and where to go as soon as the gate opened in the morning. Our instructions were fantastic, and we ended up in the very front row.
On that memorable day, we woke up very early, followed our instructions in detail, sat in the heat for several hours in joyful expectation and were blessed beyond our imagination. I can hardly put into words how thrilling it was to be there with so many people from all over the world, listening to the pope pray, give instructions to his flock and bless us with his charismatic presence.
The highlight was when, to our amazement, after his speeches and formal blessing, Pope John Paul II came down to our level and walked immediately in front of the pilgrims, greeting us with his warmth and smile. I was so excited to be so close to St. Peter’s successor and to be in the presence of such a holy man. I was able to shake his hand and get a close-up picture of him that I keep in my room and cherish to this day. I recall my knees shaking, feeling queasy in may stomach, and having the sensation that I would not be able to remain standing if I were not jammed up against the barrier by the hordes of people behind us pushing so hard to get closer to the pope. It was one of the most thrilling and joy-filled experiences of my life.
In a way, our experience that day speaks to the Advent season, which is a time of preparation. We worked to prepare for the “coming” of the pope. We saved money, traveled a great distance, planned in advance, got instruction, followed those instructions and sacrificed other things that we could have done that day. However, we were blessed with the opportunity to experience a close-up visit from the “servant of the servants of God.”
At Christmas, Christians through the gift of faith, have the opportunity to celebrate a “coming” that is infinitely more profound and significant than a visit from the pope. We are honored to celebrate and experience the coming of the son of God, Jesus Christ, the Savior and Friend of the World and of every person. In the Incarnation, God Himself, in the person of Jesus, comes down to our level, walks among us, gives us the chance to meet Him, looks into our eyes, and bestows His infinite love and mercy, and makes clear that our God is real and cares personally for each and every one of us.
In order to fully experience this visit, we need to prepare. We need to pray to open up our hearts to our need for God and increase our desire to embrace Him when He does come. We need to get instructions from the Scriptures and the saints on how to get ourselves in a position to encounter Him when He visits. We need to make sacrifices of other things that we like to do in order to get the time with the Lord who actually longs to be with us and be in a relationship with us. We need to cut things like sin out of our lives that are obstacles to His goodness, holiness and living presence.
The prayers and readings for the third Sunday of Advent focus greatly on the joy of salvation. The opening prayer specifically asks that we may “experience the joy of salvation.” It is one thing to know about Jesus, to know details about His life, to memorize the themes of His preaching and to cite the many kinds of miracles that He performed. It is another thing to watch Him come down to our level, to be visited by Him, to know His healing touch, and to be given new life by the wisdom of His preaching and the power of His Spirit.
The joy of my encounter with Pope John Paul II 25 years ago has been incomparable eclipsed by the joy of coming to know Christ in a personal way, of allowing Him to stoop down from heaven and enter into my life, of granting Him the opportunity to forgive me, heal me, strengthen me and send me out on a mission to gather others into His awesome presence.
“Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate the feast with love and thanksgiving” (opening prayer, third Sunday of Advent).
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