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 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.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst
This morning, my readings introduce me to Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest who, in 1945, shared the same fate as Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer when they were both hanged as traitors within two months of each other. They were both staunch resistors to the Nazi regime, both imprisoned at Tegel prison before being moved to their ultimate place of execution. Both men smuggled out writings from their prison cells and, being detained during the Christmas season of 1944, both left behind their prophetic thoughts on the meaning of Advent.
From the book, Watch for the Light, here are excerpts from a piece penned by Alfred Delp shortly before his execution by hanging.
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.
…we have stood on this earth in false pathos, in false security; in our own spiritual insanity we really believed we could, with the power of our own hand and arm, bring the stars down from heaven and kindle flames of eternity in the world. We believed that with our own forces we could avert the dangers and banish night, switch off and halt the internal quaking of the universe. We believed we could harness everything and fit it into a final order that would stand.
Here is the message of Advent: faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake. Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see the Last One and get to the bottom of things. Only then will we be able to guard our life from the frights and terrors into which God the Lord has let the world sink to teach us, so that we may awaken from sleep, as Paul says, and see that it is time to repent, time to change things.
Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves… and the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds.
I hear the voice of John the Baptist in these words. In every generation, voices cry in the wilderness. In every generation, we sink into delusion, build imaginary worlds, and cling to counterfeit securities. In every generation, reality either shakes us awake or drives us underground, deeper into anxious, self-protective ways of living. For those who respond and awaken, we, too, can become announcing messengers. Delp writes:
So many need their courage strengthened, so many are in despair and in need of consolation, there is so much harshness that needs a gentle hand and an illuminating word, so much loneliness crying out for a word of release, so much loss and pain in search of inner meaning.
These words, written seventy-six years ago, resonate deeply in our dark times where there also appears to be no end in sight. Lord, help us to hear what you are saying today. Please show us what we rely on instead of you. Reveal the false securities that we cling to and the arrogant attitudes hidden in our souls. Help us see each other and be willing to become those much-needed voices of truth, hope, light, and love. Raise up the living prophets in our generation to remind us who we are and how we are meant to live.
During this Advent season, remind us that, when you came, you drew near and laid claim to us. We are not our own.
For to us a child is born,to us, a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.