Advent Can Be Celebrated Only By Those Whose Souls Give Them No Peace
Those words were written by German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his prison cell only months before he was hanged by the Nazis for his involvement in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s life was full of unexpected turns that never worked out the way he hoped – he lived out twelve years of his life in constant conflict with the Gestapo after being cutoff mid-sermon for warning his congregation about the “Fuhrer concept”, many of his theology students were killed in the war, his parents’ house was destroyed in an allied bombing raid, he only saw his fiancé one hour a month while in prison (and never had a chance to marry her), his orchestration of an attempt to assassinate Hitler had failed, and he was executed only ten days before the Third Reich collapsed.
And yet, Bonhoeffer lived with an unshakable peace. During Advent, in one of his final letters to his fiancé, he wrote, “I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious.”
He compared the Christmas season to life in prison by noting that in both “one does this, that, or the other – things that are really of no consequence” while waiting with hope to be rescued. He realized the “emptier our hands” and “the poorer our quarters” the “more clearly we perceive what is truly essential” – that is Christ has come for us, He lives in our hearts and nothing can take that away.
This holiday season many will find themselves discouraged. We are barraged with Christmas stories and Hallmark movies with happy endings full of “Christmas miracles”– families are reconciled and reunited, love is found, the illness is cured, Santa is real, Buddy Elf finds his dad, McClane rescues his wife and knocks the bad guy off a roof (See what I did there? It is a Christmas movie.), Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree was the right one after all – and it’s easy for us to feel like we should be happier, our life should be more complete, our relationships more whole, our work more meaningful. It’s easy to be more aware of our own incompleteness because pictures and stories of completeness abound everywhere (most of which are not actually true or exaggerated, by the way). All the ways we have tried “this, that or the other” in life and found them to be of no consequence may be fresh on our minds.
Bonhoeffer would say that the more incomplete we feel, the more our hearts are driven towards our ultimate hope – life in Jesus. When we are broken, waiting, or helpless, we can see and know His love most clearly. When that happens, we realize that it is Jesus and His love for us that really truly matters. This Christmas, let our ultimate unshakable peace be found, not in “Christmas miracles”, our accomplishments, health, progress or even family (although those are all things to be grateful for), but rather let it be in the fact that we are #neveralone. That Jesus has come and lives in our hearts. That He has gone to any length to be with us. He is our unshakable hope. Being loved by Him, sought by Him, and restored in Him is something that can never be taken away, even if nothing else in our life has worked out the way we thought it would.