During this third week of Advent the publication First Things has published a piece by Professor Timothy George the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture which contemplates the thoughts and insights of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his last days during the season of Advent. I urge my readers to go to the link below and read the full article. But to me three main thoughts emerge here and those are:
We live lives of quiet desperation as we seek to conceal our true natures which are ones of restlessness and uncertainty. As Professor George says:
Bonhoeffer faced the issue of his own personal identity with unblinkered realism in the poem he wrote in August 1944, “Who Am I?” Although he appeared to his captors, he said, as “calm and cheerful and poised, like a squire from his manor,” in reality he knew himself to be “restless, yearning, sick, like a caged bird. . . too tired and empty to pray, to think, to work, weary and ready to take my leave of it all.”
Advent is a perfect metaphor for the Christian life. It is the perfect metaphor because we must wait and endure until the coming of Christ, for the coming of a better, more perfect form of existence.
Of all the seasons of the Christian year, Bonhoeffer was drawn especially to Advent, a holy season of waiting and hope which he saw as a metaphor for the entire Christian life. “We simply have to wait and wait,” he wrote. “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
We make the world we live in, however evil and broken, sanctified through our blessing. We take the broken world and sanctify it through our own actions of blessing:
The world lives by the blessing of God and of the righteous and thus has a future. Blessing means laying one’s hands on something and saying, despite everything, you belong to God. This is what we do with the world that inflicts such suffering on us. We do not abandon it; we do not repudiate, despise or condemn it. Instead we call it back to God, we give it hope, we lay our hand on it and say: May God’s blessing come upon you, may God renew you; be blessed, world created by God, you who belong to your Creator and Redeemer.
To illustrate the article Professor George selected a painting by Albrecht Altdorfer who was a German artist and which is titled Heilige Nacht (Geburt Christi) (Holy Night Advent) which was painted in 1511. It is a very appropriate piece to illustrate Jesus coming into the world at a time of great distress and violence which in this case was the Nazi regime during world War Two. It seems to me to be a fitting piece for today in the wake of mass shootings and terrorist attacks. It also illustrates the abject poverty into which Jesus was born. Such depiction offers us hope for our own salvation.
So as I proceed through Advent this year I am going to try very hard to keep in mind that my outer life with business suits, cars, houses and polite manners is just a cover for what’s really going on inside that being a “restless, yearning” and sickness”. And, that yearning is a normal part of our Christian life as we await the coming of Christ, and, that while here I have the power to bless and sanctify the world. There is a choice. Bless and sanctify or become part of the brokenness? I choose to bless and sanctify.
Holy Advent, Happy Christmas. PN
Here is a link to the original article
My thanks to The Very Reverend Timothy Jones, my Dean at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, South Carolina for sharing the First Things article on his Facebook page.