We are now up to our necks in Advent, two candles burning. We’ve got lights on the tree and parties dead ahead. It’s a season of waiting, as we all know, but in a lot of ways, between leafless trees and dry skin, it’s also a season of dying. Because there has to be some sort of death before there can be life, some sort of struggle before triumph. You can’t celebrate a championship unless there were teams to beat. You can’t celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary unless there was something challenging about that course of life. Christmas is a celebration because it’s a “thrill of hope” for a “weary world,” because we’re dying and self-involved people, and we don’t deserve to have love drop out of the sky, in baby form, in a desert, surrounded by camels. But that’s what we get.

All we want during the Advent season is to enjoy it, to get our Christmas shopping done and get all the decorations hung, and to sit by the fire smoking Pleasant Dreams tobacco. We want to be joyful people, not weary people. But the whole point of the season is that no matter what we do, we’re weary—of course we’ve turned Christmas into a capitalist rat race. But Christ comes anyways to give us hope. It’s just one of the many examples of life showing up unexpectedly in the wake of death.

One of the best movies I’ve seen recently is called Room, starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. It’s also one of the heaviest movies I’ve ever seen, arguably heavier than even The Passion of the Christ—but it manages to pull off a believably uplifting ending, so fear not. I was nevertheless physically distressed for at least an hour after the credits rolled, so I’d recommend watching it, probably just once.

Room is about a girl who gets kidnapped and spends seven years locked in a shed, and, in the video above, Larson explains that to prepare for such a demanding psychological role, she spent a month at home, without internet and phone service, not really doing anything. She sat mostly in silence with herself, and in the end, the challenge of it “broke her in half.”

“There was like 24 hours when I just couldn’t stop crying…it was towards the end. I really love mythology, and whenever I’m feeling low, I tend to go back to some of these old stories. And everything is always this sense of like death and rebirth, the life, death, life cycle. Through this sense of crying…I felt like I was mourning the death of something. I didn’t know what, but I just kept saying to my mom, I feel like I’m dying, something’s dying. And I was waiting for that moment when I was going to hit that birth—just the birth! The death, and then there has to be the rebirth.

As I was in this low state, I had a physical. I was getting lots of like blood work and stuff done because I was on a very restrictive diet to prepare for this movie…In the waiting room, at the same exact time, my trainer’s wife was there, they were both there actually, and she was ten weeks pregnant, and happened to have a doctor in the same doctor’s office at the exact same time. And they were getting their sonogram. They were getting to see their baby for the first time. And so I got to go watch the sonogram and see this little bit of life. And I started crying again., but it was completely different. And after that I was like, ok, I get it. I got the birth.”


The life, death, life cycle is addressed in mythology and ‘old stories’ because it addresses the central question of existence. How do we deal with death? Ernest Becker says in Chapter Two of his seminal Denial of Death: “All historical religions addressed themselves to this same problem of how to bear the end of life. Religions like Hinduism and Buddhism performed the ingenious trick of pretending not to want what you really want most.” So different religions tackle the question of death in different ways, but I think Christianity is particularly adequate in doing so. Like Brie Larson, who insists that when there’s a death there must be a birth, Christianity doesn’t deny death, it redlines right into it, insisting in a similar way that life persists after death. Larson’s story might seem a little superstitious, but without directly saying it, she’s suggesting that the answers offered by Christianity are answers to universal questions and experiences.

Becker continues: “Of all things that move man, one of the principal ones is his terror of death.” Death, and man’s aversion to it, is universal. That’s why we rush to get our Christmas checklists finished—because we can’t accept death, the inherent weariness which defines us as people. Becker explains that throughout history people who have been heralded as “heroes” are those people who have “faced death”:

“The hero was the man who could go into the spirit world, the world of the dead, and return alive. He had his descendants in the mystery cults of the Eastern Mediterranean, which were cults of death and resurrection. The divine hero of each of these cults was the one who had come back from the dead. And as we know today from the research into ancient myths and rituals, Christianity itself was a competitor with the mystery cults and won out—among other reasons—because it, too, featured a healer with supernatural powers who had risen from the dead. The great triumph of Easter is the joyful shout ‘Christ has risen!’, an echo of the same joy that the devotees of the mystery cults enacted at their ceremonies of the victory over death. These cults, as G. Stanley Hall so aptly put it, were an attempt to attain ‘an immunity bath’ from the greatest evil: death and the dread of it.”

Though it often seems abstract, the Christian message isn’t a highfalutin message for ‘religious people’ only; instead it gets down to the core of what the orators of mythology and the ancient mystery cults, and the everyday person, has always been concerned with: The life, death, life cycle. It bears out daily, even in Advent, as we speed from Walmart to Walmart, from party to party, just swinging for a chance to sit and pretend to not be weary. But we are weary, and we will be. But the thrill of hope is coming, two candles away.