"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done" (Revelation 20:12).
The Church is squarely into the first week of Advent. Advent and Lent are the two seasons of penance in each liturgical year, both of which provide useful opportunities to ponder the four last things: death, judgement, Heaven, Hell.
Since Lent precedes the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord, Lent seems to lend itself to meditating upon the eventuality of our own deaths, that certainty we cannot escape; upon the indescribable joy of Heaven, to which we've been made co-heirs and to which Christ precedes us; and the reality of Hell, from which Christ's humiliation and death has freed us.
Advent, though, as it leads us into the celebration of Christmas, seems to be a time to mediate almost exclusively upon the judgement we will receive from Christ both at the end of our individual lives at our particular judgements and at the end of time at the general judgement. While the celebration of Christmas commemorates the coming of Jesus the first time as a baby and the unimaginable miracle of the Incarnation, the celebration of Christmas, also, points to the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time coming as "one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle around his breast" (Revelation 1:13). Let's ponder this and make this Advent a productive one.
What will it be like to come before Christ as our judge?
"...[H]is head and his hair were white as wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength" (Revelation 1:14-16).That's quite an image of Our Lord to ponder. A far cry from the tiny, mewling, harmless babe lying in a manger. Every baby grows up. Jesus grows up to be our judge and one who is, well, intimidating.
How will we respond upon seeing Jesus at our judgement?
"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Revelation 1:17a).This is St. John's reaction. St. John is the disciple "whom Jesus loved," the one who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:23), who stood with Jesus and Mary at the Cross, the one whom Jesus took up into Heaven and to whom He revealed the Book of Revelation, and the only apostle spared death by martyrdom. Of all of the people in the world past, present, and future, St. John is the human being closest to Jesus. Yet, when He sees Christ as the Judge of the world, he falls at Christ's feet "as though dead." If this is St. John's reaction, what will ours be?
Clearly, judgement is not going to be anything like the annual review at the office. By the time we've died and reached our particular judgements, we've made it abundantly clear to Jesus where we've decided to spend eternity. He is merely facilitating the transition. This is an important point to remember about judgement. By the ways we have chosen to lives right here and right now, we are telling God in no uncertain terms where it is we want to spend eternity. Because God loves us so much, He is not going to force us to spend eternity with Him, if we don't want to.
But do we want to?
Advent may be the time to really think about this question. Do we really want to spend eternity in Heaven or in Hell? And before we flippantly answer, "Well, Heaven. Duh!", are we living our lives in such a way as to tell God that we want to spend eternity with Him? Actions speak infinitely louder than words to us and even more so to God.
Let's take these weeks before Christmas to meditate upon and to take seriously the Four Last Things, but, most especially, Christ's Second Coming and how we will be judged.