Every year about this time, though I am not exactly sure why, I am drawn again to the writings of one of my childhood heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Perhaps it is his staunch scholarship that draws me, or maybe his passionate and single-minded pursuit of his God. I rather suspect it is all this, yet combined with still more — Bonhoeffer wrestled hard in the hand of God. He grappled with the issues of his time, casting them continually against the unflinching walls of the Gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the one-time pacifist looked questions of evil and suffering full in the face — inspecting, viewing, always in light of the Word; first in this direction, now in another — until God was pleased to supply an answer. And if perchance the silence of God was all the answer he received, Bonhoeffer resigned his soul to rest in the sovereign stillness of the One who was faithful still. Regardless of the reason, Bonhoeffer’s life and writings continually urge my soul onward, even after all these years. And as the first day of Advent closes around me, it is the musing of this man, scrawled in the shadows of a Nazi prison cell, that beckon me to that long-ago night in Bethlehem, when Infant cries announced the incarnate reality of the newly born Answer to every question, the redemption of grief and suffering, and the triumphant end of every kind of evil.
And in the crisp air of that rediscovered wonder, I kneel to worship again.
“Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting—that is, of hopefully doing without—will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.
Those who do not know how it feels to struggle anxiously with the deepest questions of life, of their life, and to patiently look forward with anticipation until the truth is revealed, cannot even dream of the splendor of the moment in which clarity is illuminated for them… For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of sprouting, growing, and becoming.
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 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 and rules the world and our lives.”
Letter to fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, December 13, 1943
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2011-03-21). God Is In the Manger (pp. 4-5). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.