Has This Advent Prepared Us To Die?
Christmas is less than a week away. Everything is done up in lights, a symbol for Christians of the Light born into the world to bring salvation to all who believe in Him. This is a glorious truth, but in these final days of Advent, I’d like to pose a different question: Has this Advent prepared us to die?
Many in our world have been running around in a material mad-grab since Black Friday, and the frenetic pace will grow steadily until it reaches a crescendo on Christmas Day. Finally, for the first time in weeks, stores will close, cars will navigate Burkhardt-and-Lloyd in a reasonable period of time, and the pall of darkness that descended the day after Thanksgiving will begin to be driven out by the “true light, which enlightens everyone…”(John 1:9). Yet, ironically, most of society will miss the Light, focusing on all the perishable stuff that will one day be discarded, stolen or lost.
In the final days of Advent, it is not too late to prepare for the birth of the Light, to make our hearts ready to receive Him and the salvation He brings. But, perhaps instead of focusing on a gurgling babe in a manger, we should shift our focus to our deathbed.
Momento Mori (“Remember death”) is the term for an ancient practice in the Church where the faithful were urged to focus every day on their last day. We find examples of this frequently in Christian writings and works of art. One of the most notable is from the Rule of St. Benedict, “Remember to keep death before your eyes daily” (ch. 4). Benedict and other saints engaged this practice as a means of keeping their focus on salvation, the one and only thing that truly matters. St. Ignatius instructed that this becomes especially true when attempting to make an important decision in life. “…consider, as if I were at the point of death, what procedure and norm of action I would then wish to have followed in making the present choice; and, guiding myself by this, make my decision entirely in conformity with it” (Spiritual Exercises #186). In short, if today were our final day of life, how would we live it?
Over the last few weeks, it appears to me that many have sought comfort in purchases that feed momentary appetites without considering what truly matters. Perhaps our child wants a new Xbox; great, but will that benefit them on their last day? Will I, as I contemplate death, conclude that the one thing I regretted the most was not buying a 55” television? Yet we’ve run around with vigor, cutting people off on the roads, pushing them out of the way with our shopping carts, or thinking angry thoughts of those who got in our way. “Black Friday” seems an apt name to describe the beginning of this season.
As we spend these final days, the advent of the birth of Christ, what is most important? Do we wish to proclaim the message that salvation has been born, that it is available to all people without exception? Can we spend these final days highlighting the love of God, given freely, given generously, poured out on us in great measure? Or will we descend into the blackness ushered in the day after Thanksgiving, embracing the folly and hollowness of more things that will never satisfy?
Has the light of Christ driven out the blackness of Black Friday in our households? In these final days before Christmas, let’s pause and consider our deathbed. If that day were today, would we worry about gifts, or would we reach out in love to those most in need? Perhaps we need nothing more than to consider our death, and there, in what appears dark and frightening, we may notice a light. As we contemplate that light, we see a star, and that star shines on a babe in swaddling clothes. What gift can compare with that?