Why should you think about something as dark as death and the end times during a season full of preparing for Christ child? Isn’t Advent supposed to be filled with the light of the purple and pink candles and the joy of the upcoming Christmas season?
It’s true, death and the final times are a little darker conversation topic than your average chocolate Advent calendar.
However, traditionally, priests would use the four weeks of Advent to discuss the end of life with their parishioners. It may be partially because Advent offers the perfect excuse for a neat, four part sermon series. But it’s also because Advent is actually the perfect time to talk about death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell.
Still on the fence? Check out these five reasons why the four last things are perfect for your Advent reflection.
1. The real meaning of Advent
The word ‘Advent’ has its root in the Latin ‘adventus,‘ which means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival.’ Whose coming to we celebrate during the Advent season? Christ’s, obviously. But Christ doesn’t just come once as a baby born in Bethlehem. Instead, Christ promises us in the Gospel of John that “I will come back again to take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
Yes, we prepare during this season for the coming of Christ as a child. But we also prepare for his second coming, when he will come again at the end of the world.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this understanding of Advent, saying, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desires for his second coming.”
2. We need to memento mori more often
Saint Pope John Paul II knew what he was talking about when he penned his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on reconciliation and penance.
“Nor can the church omit, without serious mutilation of her essential message, a constant catechesis on what the traditional Christian language calls the four last things of man: death, judgment (universal and particular), hell and heaven,” the saint explained.
Why is this important to remember? Because our culture tells us to stuff any thoughts about death deep down where they can’t disturb us. “In a culture which tends to imprison man in the earthly life at which he is more or less successful, the pastors of the church are asked to provide a catechesis which will reveal and illustrate with the certainties of faith what comes after the present life: beyond the mysterious gates of death, an eternity of joy in communion with God or the punishment of separation from him,” John Paul continued.
3. Scripture encourages us to think about the end times during Advent
Have you found yourself sitting down during Mass to listen to the Liturgy of the Word, only to get blindsided with readings from the Book of Revelations and Gospels warnings of the end times? Where are the fluffy sheep around the manger?
While the second part of Advent’s Scripture readings will remind us of Christ’s first coming, the first remind those who listen that Christ is coming again and no one knows the day or the hour. So while we should prepare our hearts as we watch the manger, we should also prepare our hearts for the moment when we meet Christ face to face in death.
4. Christ redeems death for us
One reason you may avoid thinking about death is because it can be seen as a scary thought. But for Christians, death has no sting or victory. Christ came as a baby, but he also grows up, takes up the cross, and dies for our salvation. He redeems death so that we don’t have to be afraid of the end of this life.
That means we should think about death regularly. These aren’t morbid thoughts, but instead Advent thoughts of preparation.
In Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis writes, ” It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow? [.…] Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.”
5. Christ prepared for his death, even during the Christmas season
Christ himself offers us the perfect example during the Christmas season. As a child, the three magi visit him, bringing the infant gifts. One of those gifts includes myrrh, an odd choice for a baby shower.
After all, myrrh was used to anoint the bodies of the dead. But the gift wasn’t a mistake. Instead, it was a conscious reminder of the real reason Christ came to earth: to die for the sins of all mankind and open the gates of Heaven.
In what ways are we preparing our souls for death? Take time to examine your daily habits and prayer life. How does this emphasis on death change your concrete resolutions during the Advent liturgical season?