Maybe we’re both just morbid, or feeling the pains of middle age, or for some other reason thinking gloomy thoughts about life on earth, but the “Catholic Sense” column I write for the Pittsburgh Catholic and the editor’s OTS column The Christmas Conspiracy both took up the relation of Christ’s birth and our death.
I began “Jesus beats the zombies” and then quoted our friend David Goldman on what the current craze for zombies means: Why, he asks, does our society “wallow in images of death — not merely death, but death in massive doses, in the form of zombie armies of the walking dead?” Because “We have dismissed the Jewish and Christian hope of eternal life as superstition offensive to reason, but instead, we find ourselves trapped in a recurring nightmare. We know that we will die, but (as Woody Allen said) we don’t want to be there when it happens.”
And then after quoting the line from Pink Floyd’s “Time,” a line I didn’t understand in my childhood but do now, “The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older, shorter of breath and one day closer to death,” I wrote:
Reacting to the fact that they will die some day no matter what, and that day isn’t all that far off, many people do everything they can to live and to put off all the signs of death life gives us. If you’re shorter of breath, take up jogging or hit the gym. Build up your wind.
“We act,” Goldman notes, “as if exercise, antioxidants and Botox will keep the reaper away, but we know that our flesh one day must putrefy nonetheless. The more we try to ignore death, the more it fascinates us. The more we tell ourselves that mortality doesn’t apply to us, the more it surrounds us.”
Jesus tells us that whoever tries to save his life will lose it. We see now that he who tries to save his life by trying to live as long as he possibly can will lose his life by becoming obsessed with death, even if he deals with this obsession in the imaginative form of zombies. I can think of people like this. People who really don’t want to die think about death and the signs that it’s coming (like being short of breath) a lot more than the Christians I know.
That’s no way to live. Having the hope of eternal life makes living in this world a lot easier. Jesus led the way, becoming one of us knowing he would die on the cross. That child in Bethlehem gives us reason for hope and joy even though we will some day die.
The English poet John Betjeman got it right in his poem “Christmas.” He begins the poem describing London before Christmas. The world he describes is nice enough, with all the decorations and the cheerfulness and “the bells of waiting Advent” ringing out, but there’s not much point to it.
But then he asks, “And is it true . . . the Maker of the stars and sea, become a Child on earth for me?” Because if so, life changes entirely. Because if the child born of Mary was the Son of God, nothing — not “bath salts and inexpensive scent, and hideous tie so kindly meant” — not even the
. . . love that in a family dwells,<
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells,
Can with this single Truth compare
That God was man in Palestine.
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
Whatever your personal zombies are, Jesus beats them — or to be precise, has beaten them, is beating them, and will beat them. So as Rusty says, merry Christmas.