Three people had died and were waiting at heaven’s gate for their papers to be processed.
Making conversation, St. Peter asked them what words they would like to hear as they lay in their coffins.
The first said, “I’d like to hear that I was a good family man and a successful businessman who generously gave back to the community.”
The second said, “I’d like to hear that I was a loving mother and a dedicated teacher who worked tirelessly to educate and inspire our children.”
When his turn came, the third confessed, “I’d really like to hear them say ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
Most of us aren’t comfortable with the thought of death. When it comes to our own, we not only don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to be there when it happens.
Advent, though, refuses to let us sneak by the cemetery. If we listen at all, it brings us to the foot of the grave and fixes our gaze.
The Advent prophets of the Hebrew scripture depict barren deserts where the land is parched, jackals lurk, and the people of God find themselves feeble and frightened. Others are in exile, or on the verge of being conquered, waiting for the gavel of judgement to come down hard on their lives.
The gospels remind us that we know not the day nor the hour; that stealthy death will come upon us like a thief in the night. We’re urged to be prepared and vigilant, like wise bridesmaids waiting for the groom, or watchful servants anticipating the return of the master.
We live in a different world today. Death is kept at a distance and it is far more likely that we, not God, will trigger any apocalypse. Meanwhile, we stick our heads in the deep sand of creature comforts and comforting lies.
We need those reminders that life is terminal. We may have 20 or 40 years, or maybe only days or months. Whatever the length of our lease on earth, it will be over in a flash.
Death on the horizon is our call to action. The only moment that is certain is this one. There is no time for distraction or delay.
We all have promises for keeping, changes for making, and love for sharing. Now is always our best, and someday our only, chance for doing that.
I want them to say, “Look, he’s moving,” before I’m in that coffin.