God cut a highway right through Bernie Klein’s heart, an artery that could give him life. Not surprisingly, that’s where Love seeped in.
“I died and I clearly remember it,” Bernie told me after waking up from a six-week coma brought on by a massive heart attack and subsequent multiple organ failure. “I could see myself floating in the air, looking down at my body, and I could see my damaged heart.”
That vision was the start of a near-death experience six years ago that took my late husband Bernie to heaven and back, where he met God and encountered with great clarity both the profound love of God and the spiritual condition of his own heart. I share the entire true story in detail in my book, Miracle Man.
“It looked like my heart was torn in half, and half of my heart was a vivid color of blue that looked like ugly debris. I knew that represented all of things I had done in my life that were not pleasing to God,” Bernie shared soberly. “The other side was beautiful gold, and I knew it represented all of the things I’d done in my life that were pleasing to God.” Bernie was “sent back” by God to undergo what he called his “purification,” about which he emphatically stated: “And I NEED it.”
Bernie’s experience calls to mind a series of Advent sermons delivered by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 1964. Ratzinger called our lives “an enduring Advent” and said that:
the borderline between ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’…runs through our own hearts.*
“Insofar as we are living on the basis of selfishness, of egoism, then even today we are ‘before Christ,’” said the man who would become Pope almost fifty years later. He explained that our vocation as Christians is “live with Christ and in Christ,” an ongoing event in our hearts that makes every day of every year Advent for us—for the rest of our lives.
To live with Christ and in Christ is the hope of Advent, and for Christ to live with us and in us is our hope for glory (Colossians 1:27). In Advent, we invite the God-man to be birthed anew in our hearts, asking him to blur the dividing line in us of all that is “before Christ.” In Advent, we welcome the Lord and ask Him to occupy our hearts, much as he did the manger in Bethlehem. In doing so, all that is “before Christ” within us increasingly decreases.
“Judy, you have no idea how much God loves you,” Bernie said as he finished telling me his near-death account. “I will spend the rest of my life spreading the message of God’s love to others,” he concluded. “Nothing else matters.”
God’s incredible love. Nothing else matters. Bernie saw that clearly after meeting God.
Paralyzed from the neck down and completely dependent on life support, Bernie’s mantra for the last six weeks of his life became: “You have no idea how much God loves you.” He spent those last days enjoying what he called “fellowship with God,” allowing God to run a road from his once-divided heart straight to heaven, this time, to stay forever.
This Advent let us take the occasion to ask: Where is the line drawn in my own heart? How much of my heart does not yet belong to Christ? May His Divine Presence displace everything in us that is not of Him, and may His light dispel any darkness in our hearts.
*All quotes from Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, are from the book of Advent sermons entitled: What It Means To Be A Christian.