I love the film the 6th sense. A genuinely brilliant twist that you don't see coming. I won't wreck it for you. But in the film the little boy at the centre of the story famously tells Bruce Willis' character: "I see dead people."
I don't. And that's a problem.
I think I've seen three physically dead people. The first was some poor unsuspecting corpse that we were shown whilst on a hospital placement at theological college. It was thought to be a necessary part of our training. And I can see why. As a pastor you have the incredible privilege of being with people through the joys and sadnesses of life. Sometimes that means that you are with them as life ends or with their family shortly afterwards.
That was the reason I saw my second dead person. He was a 94 year old man who was a member of our church in Preston. I arrived to visit him in hospital only to find that he had died just moments earlier. I spent a few minutes praying with his body. As I was leaving, his family arrived to visit. They didn't know that he had died. To this day I regret the mess that I made of telling them. I didn't say anything crass or insensitive. I just didn't say anything profound or helpful either.
The third dead person I saw was my father. I had been sleeping by his bedside in hospital as he slowly faded from life, six months after having a brain haemorrhage. But as so often with death, it didn't show up at a convenient time. So I returned home from North Wales to Preston. Only for my mother to ring and say that he had died a few hours after I left.
I hadn't been there. I know he didn't know that I was there. But I felt that I was catching up on missed time from the years we didn't talk or walk together nearly enough.
I went with my youngest sister to see his body. You know a dead body is dead without medical training. Especially the day afterwards. They tend to be a little yellowy. Waxy almost. There is a comfort in knowing that this is not really the person you loved. It is only the shell they used to occupy. Because that's what is looks like. We didn't stay long. We just needed to know.
Having regaled to you my encounters with the deceased, let me return to my original point. I don't see dead people. The little boy in the 6th sense sees the ghosts of dead people that are all around us (apparently!) which we can't see. He sees the world as it really is, filled with the living spirits of the dead. Normal folk don't (thankfully!).
I think I have the reverse problem. I see thousands of dead people every day. But I think that they're alive. In fact some of the dead people I have seen have been alive and lots of the alive people I see are dead. Confused?
Let me clear it up with a Bible verse or two.
The Bible is very clear that knowing God through Jesus is life. Jesus says, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10)
It also describes people who don't follow Jesus as dead. The apostle Paul writing to Christians says: "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.." (Ephesians 2:1)
With Jesus you have true life. Life with the certainty that you are loved by God whatever happens and that death is not the end. Without Jesus you don't have life. You are dead to the true life you were created for. Locked into believing that disobeying God and living for yourself really is best.
So I'm surrounded by dead people. People who don't know Jesus. But the problem is that I don't see them like that. If I did I might have a little more compassion towards them. I might be quicker to share Jesus with them. I might want to bring them the news that gives life.
So let's pray that this Christmas time we might see people as they truly are. Perhaps you're looking forward to catching up with some spiritual corpses that you know and love over the Christmas holidays. There's no better time to offer them life.
"In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind." (John 1:4)