Simple Things

The Way the World Ends

She knew very early on, as women sometimes do when pregnant, that she was going to have a boy. She and her husband chose a simple and strong name for him: William Joseph. On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, William came into this world stillborn. He had twenty-four weeks, in the womb of his mother, to experience life: the sounds of laughter, the feeling of love and security, the darkness, and the satisfaction of nourishment. He also vicariously experienced the reality of God’s grace and the effect of conversion on the human person. 

I have faith that, in God’s mercy, William is at eternal rest with his cousins who preceded him in death. Oddly, though, William’s death brought to my mind T.S. Eliot’s famous words on the apocalypse: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” The coming of a child is very much like a mini-apocalypse. From the moment of conception, a child ends your world as you know it. Everything you thought you knew about life, about love, about struggle, and about yourself is blighted. This new soul holds you to account for yourself in ways you never knew existed, because they hadn’t existed before. You are confronted with the choice to either fearfully embrace growth and conversion, or fearfully withdraw into your self and eventually die with the world you can’t let go of. 

Maybe its the timing of things, but to me this also sounds a lot like the nature of Advent.  We prepare  for the birth of the Christ-child who invites each of us to let our world end and embrace a new world while we still have the choice to do so. The penitential nature and imagery of the common Advent narrative reinforces this. Unless we want to be like the inns that turned the Holy Family away, we must “make room” for Jesus by jettisoning our sinfulness. 

I suspect, though, that Advent is apocalyptic because it is a warning wrapped in hope and presented with joy. The season warns us that the end of the world will not come with great pomp and circumstance, but in moments of quiet encounter. And it will not come all at once. The Advent-apocalypse is the beginning of a bittersweet journey of vulnerability and openness to a new life shaped by those whose presence, no matter how brief, are God’s invitation to draw closer to his Son. 


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