You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Advent’ category.

by 12 . 26 . 16

“Christmas comes even in the midst of rubble.” Those words were written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his parents on November 29, 1940. From his monastic haven in the Benedictine community at Ettal, Bonhoeffer was keenly aware of the “rubble” in which the Feast of the Incarnation was about to be celebrated. Inside the letter to his parents, Bonhoeffer included an Advent card with the nativity scene painted by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1511. It shows the Holy Family huddled together in a dilapidated house, which looks for all the world like a modern bomb shelter. Real bombs were then falling all over Europe, and the military success of the Nazi armies during the summer of 1940 promised that the war would not end quickly. There would yet be much more rubble before the nightmare was over.

Bonhoeffer will always be remembered for his role in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, an activity that led to his execution on April 9, 1945. But even in the shadowy work he did as a double agent for the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer never lost sight of the fact that he was an ordained Lutheran pastor. As the founding director of an illegal, underground seminary of the Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer had grown close to the students with whom he shared a unique “life together,” as he titled one of his shorter writings. In August 1937, Heinrich Himmler had issued a decree criminalizing such schools.

Still, Bonhoeffer continued to work with small groups of students that met in isolated, out-of-the-way places such as Sigurdshof in eastern Pomerania. In March 1940, the Gestapo discovered this place too and shut it down. How was “Bruder Bonhoeffer,” as the students called him, to stay in touch with his scattered flock? Beginning in May 1940 and continuing through November 1942, Bonhoeffer wrote a series of seven circular letters (Rundbriefe) to his dispersed students. Many of them had by then been drafted and sent to the front lines, and a number of them had fallen in battle. Bonhoeffer corresponded as best he could with his former students at the front. From Ettal, he sent greetings and Christmas presents to their wives and children at home.

The circular letters dealt with issues of pastoral and spiritual concern faced by the former seminarians now far removed from the life they had once shared as a close-knit community of love and learning. How does one maintain a daily order of prayer and Scripture reading, so essential to the Christian life, while carrying out the duties of a soldier? What purpose could God possibly have in permitting the deaths of so many young pastors? How could spiritual equilibrium be maintained in the midst of so much suffering and loss? These and other questions Bonhoeffer answered with compassion, insight, and pastoral sensitivity. The circular letter written from Ettal in December 1940 dealt with how to celebrate Christmas amidst the rubble.

For the rest of the article…

To Us a Child Is Born

Birth announcements are wonderful ways of sharing and spreading joy.

Seven years ago, my wife and I received a treasured postcard in the mail after our first niece was born into the world. We read it carefully, studied the photo, and celebrated her arrival.

In one of the most studied and celebrated Bible passages at Christmas, Isaiah announces the arrival of a child:

To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6–7)

The prophet Isaiah wasn’t trying to write a modern birth announcement. But comparing his description of this baby boy to the birth announcements we send and receive illumines the distinctive splendor of this particular baby. Four things set Isaiah’s announcement apart.

1. This announcement is sent really early.

Some birth announcements go out soon after the baby is born, and others a bit later, depending on the organizational ability (and sleep levels) of the parents. But every single birth announcement I’ve ever received was sent after the baby was born. This one is different. It’s sent before the birth — seven hundred years before.

The prophet Isaiah delivered it to the people of Israel while they were facing a threat from the growing superpower of Assyria (which would eventually destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and lead many Jews into captivity). Isaiah addressed this situation by promising the coming of a future King.

The seven-hundred-year delay was not because God was unable to fulfill his promise sooner, but because he wanted to give his people the hope of a future King to sustain them through dark times. The long period between promise and fulfillment was, in fact, a gift from God to his people.

2. Isaiah announces a royal birth.

I once met Charles, the Prince of Wales, at a very fancy reception. We all stood under a beautiful tent on a well-manicured university lawn, enjoying canapés and eagerly awaiting his arrival. When the car pulled up, we all crowded into the receiving line.

I’ve never received a royal birth announcement, but I imagine it’s fancier than most — especially when it announces the birth of the future King. Such an announcement must bear a solemnity and significance ordinary ones do not.

For the rest of the post…

by

For three months during the early years of World War II, from November 1940 through February 1941, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) lived at Ettal, in a historic Benedictine monastery that is still a tourist attraction today. Nestled in the picturesque Bavarian Alps, Ettal became a sanctuary for Bonhoeffer as he found himself zwischen den Zeiten—still officially a pastor of the Confessing Church charged with training ordinands for ministry, yet drawn inexorably into a conspiracy against Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

At Ettal, Bonhoeffer experienced firsthand the gracious hospitality of the Benedictine life in which every guest is treated like Christ. He took meals with the brothers in the refectory, he was given access to the monastic library where he worked on his book Ethics, and he walked and skied on the snow-covered hills. In the company of his friend Eberhard Bethge, who came from Berlin for a long visit, he sang and made music. He bought Christmas presents for his family and friends back home, including the wife of Martin Niemöller, a fellow Confessing Church pastor being held in a concentration camp. He spent time with local school children, including his nephew, whom he personally nursed during a bout with influenza. In the midst of all this, he made ready for yet another season of Advent.

Bonhoeffer loved Advent and saw in this holy season of waiting and hope a metaphor for the entire Christian life. During the Advent of 1942, Bonhoeffer wrote a circular letter to some of his friends and former students:

The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye but finds life precisely within it.

Following his arrest, Bonhoeffer would find a good analogy for Advent in the confinement and waiting all prisoners know. Advent reminds us, he wrote, that

Misery, sorrow, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something different in the eyes of God than according to human judgment; that God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn—a prisoner grasps this better than others. And for them, this is truly good news.

The monastery was not a prison.

The rest of the post…

Michael Gerson

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions of Weimar Germany, America has fewer footholds for fascism. But the reaction to fascist darkness in the 1930s produced a figure, a bright light, who should guide us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who resisted the Nazis and the influence of Nazism in his own church. He spoke out on behalf of German Jews, was implicated in a plot against Adolf Hitler’s life, was imprisoned, wrote and ministered for years from confinement, then was led naked to the execution ground and hung with a noose of piano wire, just weeks before the end of World War II.

As a theologian, Bonhoeffer was farsighted. Modern Western societies, he argued, were becoming “radically religionless.” It is not possible to re-impose this consensus, and mere nostalgia is pointless. But religion – in Bonhoeffer’s view, a changeable form of “human self-expression” – is not the same as faith. “If religion is only the garment of Christianity – and even the garment has looked very different at different times – then what is religionless Christianity?”

It is a question that could occupy a theologian’s entire career. Bonhoeffer’s was cut short at age 39. But it is worth noting one thing he did not find outdated. He believed that Advent and the story of Christmas speak directly to the modern world.

The appeal of Christmas to a prisoner, from one perspective, is natural. Christmas upends the normal calculations of power and influence. “He takes what is little and lowly,” said Bonhoeffer, “and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. … He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

For the rest of the post…

Bonhoeffer on Christmas

Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for plotting against Hitler, is in vogue today.  Much of what people are so excited about in his writings is simply Lutheran spirituality.  Michael Gerson writes a fine column about Bonhoeffer’s reflections from a Nazi prison on Christmas.  What Bonhoeffer is saying–the inversions, the paradoxes, the repudiation of power (of great interest in a postmodern apologetic)–is an application to Christmas of Luther’s theology of the Cross.

From Michael Gerson: A God on our side | GazetteXtra:

The appeal of Christmas to a prisoner, from one perspective, is natural. Christmas upends the normal calculations of power and influence.

“He takes what is little and lowly,” said Bonhoeffer, “and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. .. He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

This is not merely a sentimental insight. In Bonhoeffer’s view, this revelation about the character of God involves a kind of judgment.

“No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.”

This means, of course, that nearly all of us are judged—convicted by our indifference to the needs of others and sentenced to our own sour, self-flagellating company.

“And then,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love.”

Modern people, surrounded by violence and oppression, presented with morally conflicted choices, are not in need of an ethical system. They are in need of hope. And that sets a limit on our own effort.

“A prison cell like this,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “is a good analogy for Advent; one waits, hopes, does this or that—ultimately negligible things—the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”

In the Christian view, the door was swung open by the incarnation, by a God who somehow became a defenseless child, a refugee, a teacher of good, a victim of injustice, left alone, tired, in doubt to face a humiliating death.

For the rest of the post…

December 27, 2015 in Column, Opinion

Michael Gerson: Bonhoeffer resisted Nazis, offered hope

Michael Gerson The Washington Post

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions …

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions of Weimar Germany, America has fewer footholds for fascism. But the reaction to fascist darkness in the 1930s produced a figure, a bright light, who should guide us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who resisted the Nazis and the influence of Nazism in his own church. He spoke out on behalf of German Jews, was implicated in a plot against Adolf Hitler’s life, was imprisoned, wrote and ministered for years from confinement, then was led naked to the execution ground and hung with a noose of piano wire, just weeks before the end of World War II.

As a theologian, Bonhoeffer was farsighted. Modern Western societies, he argued, were becoming “radically religionless.” It is not possible to reimpose this consensus, and mere nostalgia is pointless. But religion – in Bonhoeffer’s view, a changeable form of “human self-expression” – is not the same as faith. “If religion is only the garment of Christianity – and even the garment has looked very different at different times – then what is religionless Christianity?”

It is a question that could occupy a theologian’s entire career. Bonhoeffer’s was cut short at age 39. But it is worth noting one thing he did not find outdated. He believed that Advent and the story of Christmas speak directly to the modern world.

The appeal of Christmas to a prisoner, from one perspective, is natural. Christmas upends the normal calculations of power and influence. “He takes what is little and lowly,” said Bonhoeffer, “and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. … He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

This is not merely a sentimental insight. In Bonhoeffer’s view, this revelation about the character of God involves a kind of judgment. “No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.”

For the rest of the post…

From San Diego this year!

Weekly column by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Archbishop Chaput: Living the Last Few Days of Advent

As we enter the last few days of Advent before we rightly give our hearts over to the joy of Christmas, we might take a few minutes to consider two brief passages from the past about the deeper meaning of the season.

Here’s the first. The great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the [Advent] message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

Only when we have felt the terror of the matter can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.

Bonhoeffer knew both the joy and the cost of his Christian faith, and he lived his discipleship heroically in very difficult times. But he was not alone in his heroism, nor in preaching the real meaning of Advent from the depths of Germany in the Second World War. Here’s a second passage for our December prayers:

We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. The answer to this question is perhaps that we were living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. And now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters; not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one thing – the spirit’s innermost moving and being moved…

The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth. The Advent message comes out of an encounter of man with the absolute, the final, the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes – so that in the end, the world shall be shaken.

For the rest of the post…

Advent & the “War” on Christmas

677

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I often talk about my struggles with doubt and faith, but in regard to faith, the season of Advent has become even more important to me than it ever was before. In fact, amid all the yearly histrionics and propaganda of the Christian Right and their Fox News Channel cheerleaders who scream about “the war on Christmas” I find Advent to be a powerful antidote.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is to baseball. Advent is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity.  It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8) 

In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” 

That simple fact is why Christ came.

For the rest of the post…

 This is Eric Metaxas. Today on BreakPoint, Chuck Colson tells us about a beautiful Christmas Day, behind bars.

Chuck Colson

Bessie Shipp was spending Christmas in jail. A slender black woman, Bessie was watching her life slip rapidly away. Though she had not been sentenced to death by the state, she was under a different death sentence: Bessie had AIDS.

I met Bessie that Christmas Day in a North Carolina prison for women. I had come to give a Christmas message to the inmates there.

The atmosphere was glum. The small crowd that gathered to hear me preach was somber and subdued.

After the service, a prison official said, “Do you have time to visit Bessie Shipp?”

“Who’s Bessie Shipp?” I asked. When they told me, I confess, I was taken aback. This was several years ago, and I had never visited an AIDS patient.

And yet, just the night before, I had seen a television story about Mother Teresa and the AIDS patients she was caring for. How could I do anything less?

“I’ll go,” I said.

We walked down a narrow corridor, and a heavy door was opened to reveal a small, dark cell. There, sitting in a hard-backed chair was this tiny woman, wrapped in a bathrobe, shivering in the cold. To my surprise, I saw a Bible on her lap.daily_commentary_12_25_14

After chatting a few minutes, I came right to the point. “Bessie,” I said, “Do you know the Lord?”

“I want to,” she replied softly. “But I don’t always feel like He’s there.” And her voice trailed off.

“Would you like to pray with me to know Christ as your Savior?” I asked.

Bessie looked down, twisted a Kleenex in her thin hands, and finally whispered, “Yes, I would.”

So we prayed together in that cold, concrete cell. And Bessie made a decision that would change the rest of her short life: She gave it to Jesus Christ.

Only days later Bessie was paroled. Friends and prison officials had been trying to get her released for a long time. But the timing was providential. She stayed long enough to meet Christ, and then she went to her home as a new Christian.

For the rest of the post…

May 2017
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Twitter Updates

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.