Just as much as Jesus discoursed on the beauty of Heaven, he spoke about the reality of hell. He compared hell to a blazing furnace, an unquenchable fire, a worm that doesn’t die. We can make choices, He said, that cause us to lose body and soul in hell, that exclude us from the banquet of the Kingdom, that lead God to say to us, “I never knew you.”
Those who end up in this state, Jesus said, may be shocked because they had dined with Him, heard His sermons, even worked miracles in His name, but they had never really developed an intimate communion of life with Him. Those to whom Jesus will say, “Depart from Me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” will be startled to recognize that every time they neglected to nourish, dress, welcome and care for others — every time they failed to love their neighbor — they were failing to love Jesus Himself in disguise. And those choices matter.
In talking about hell, Jesus was not an ancient Stephen King entertaining the multitudes with fictional horror stories. He was communicating that hell is a real possibility of human freedom. Hell is not part of the Gospel Jesus proclaimed — hell is not “Good News” — but it is a reality for those who freely decide not to believe and live the Gospel.
Incentive to take advantage of Advent? To have contrition and seek mercy.