Advent with Bonhoeffer: Waiting

Advent begins today.  This is a time to wait and to pray, "Come, Lord Jesus."  Dietrich Bonhoeffer(1906-1945) will be our guide during the next four Sundays. From across the years, Bonhoeffer reminds us that Jesus Christ expressed strength  through weakness, that authentic faith is more important than the beguiling trappings of religion, and that God is often heard most clearly by those in poverty and distress. Let's walk through Advent with Bonhoeffer. For Bonhoeffer, WAITING--one of the central themes of the Advent experience--was a fact of life during World War II: waiting to be released from prison; waiting to be able to spend time with fiancee, Maria von Wedemeyer; waiting for the end of the war. As friends & former students were killed  & his home was bombed, there was little he could do but pray and write. There was a helplessness in his situation that he recognized as a parallel to Advent, Christians' time of waiting for redemption in Christ.

"Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent," Bonhoeffer wrote to his best friend Eberhard Bethge as the holidays approached in 1943, "One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other--things that are really of no consequence--the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside."

"We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us...I think of you as you now sit together with the children and with all the Advent decorations--as in earlier years you did with us.  We must do this, even more intensively because we do not know how much longer we have."--letter to Bonoeffer's parents, Nov. 29, 1943, written from Tegel prison camp

"Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide.  We shall both experience a few dark hours--why should we disguise that from each other?  We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand...

And then, 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 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 and rules the world and our lives."--letter to fiancee Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, December 13 1943

from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: God is in the Manger--Reflections on Advent and Christmas, edited by Jana Riess