VATICAN CITY, DEC. 7, 2003 ( Christ is the peace and serenity that the people of our time are seeking, says John Paul II in a meditation in preparation for Christmas.

The central message of Advent, liturgical period in preparation for Jesus' birth, became the principal theme of the Pope's reflection, when he greeted the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray the midday Angelus.

Today's liturgy highlighted John the Baptist's cry -- "prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" -- a message the Holy Father described as a "prophetic cry that continues to have repercussions through the centuries."

"We also hear it in our time, while humanity continues on its path through history," the Pope added. "He shows the way that must be traveled, to the people of the third millennium in search of serenity and peace."

Advent is an invitation "to go out and meet Christ, who is coming to save us," he said on a windy, cold and rainy day in Rome.

"We are preparing to recall the birth that took place in Bethlehem around 2000 years ago; we renew our faith in his glorious coming at the end of time," the Pontiff said.

"At the same time, we dispose ourselves to recognize him present in our midst: In fact, he also visits us in persons and in daily events," he added.

The Holy Father, who had trouble pronouncing some words, seemed to be in better health than two months ago.

Reminding pilgrims that the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this Monday, the Pope invoked her intercession to prepare "the way of the Lord in ourselves and in the world."

In keeping with tradition, on Monday afternoon, John Paul II is scheduled to go to Piazza di Spagna in Rome to render homage to the Virgin Mary.