“God in the Manger”: Bonhoeffer on Advent and Waiting

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

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 all this, even more intensively because we do not know how much longer we have.

–Letter to Bonhoeffer’s parents, Nov 29, 1943, from Tegel prison

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….

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….

[In this letter Bonhoeffer goes on to console his fiance Maria, while reflecting on the message of Christmas]

…We shall ponder the imcomprehensibility 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 of 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 Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, Dec 13, 1943

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