I’ve read in books and seen on television a number of first person stories from people who were faced with imminent death. Many of them relate how, when the gun is pointed at their heads or the bear was chomping at their skulls, they asked God to forgive their sins and receive their souls. Then, almost invariably, they say they thought about their families.
Not once in any of these tales of survival in the face of death have I heard anyone say that they were worried about missing a meeting at their office or whether or not they would get their next promotion. Preparing to meet the Lord strips away all the little things that take up our days and leaves us with the stark reality of who we are in light of His justice and who we love in this world. When we are face to face with eternity, eternal things — love and the state of our souls in relation to God — are what matters.
One striking element of these narratives is that these people are, even in the face of their great peril, hopeful. They don’t just bemoan the ugliness of their sins as they compare to God’s justice, they ask, with certainty of His love, for forgiveness. They ask, with expectation that it will happen, for Him to receive their souls. They even ask Him to take care of the people they are going to leave behind.
The reason they have this confidence in God’s love, this hope of His forgiveness and that He will take them home when they die is that God become human in the form of a helpless little baby. That is what we are awaiting in Advent: The hope and the promise of the only One who can save us, the beginning of the end of death.
Someone’s coming. And we need to get ready.
Like everyone who knows that someone’s coming to their house, we need to sweep up the dust, straighten the pillows and stock the fridge with goodies. Only in this case, the house He is coming to is the real and eternal us: Our souls. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, we need confession.
All this is somewhat symbolic, of course. Jesus is already born. He has already suffered, died, been buried and rose again. The promise of Advent is reality for us already. But at the same time, this promise is also coming and on its way. We are battered, buffeted, chip, stained and pitted by the battles of our daily lives. We are embittered by our losses, defeated by our failures and enthralled with our victories.
We are, in short, too much of this world to be ready to receive our King. We need to pause and take stock of ourselves and we need to do it now. To paraphrase a soft drink commercial, we need that pause of humility and honest self-examination that refreshes. We must, if we are to be any use to Him at all, acknowledge our sins, look honestly at our failings and turn to Him for forgiveness and conversion of heart.
We are His instruments in this world. But before an instrument can be used, it must be cleaned, tuned and brought into good working order. After this election season and its many evils, after the struggles of our lives these past few months, we need this cleaning and tuning up.
We must prepare our eternal houses, our souls, to receive our Lord once again. That is what Advent is all about. If you would be His servant in this world, it is imperative that you not miss it.