Wednesday, December 01, 2021

The Village ILWIDIot

By Walt Wiltschek

In a recent Zoom conversation with some pastors and other district leaders, I shared some words penned during the Advent seasons of World War II by noted German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whose thinking has often resonated with Anabaptists). First, in December 1942, while Bonhoeffer was still free amid the raging war and Nazi persecution, he wrote this:

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable. It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.”

The themes of waiting and hope were ones that Bonhoeffer visited often, as author Tim George noted in an article for the journal First Things, often using the Advent season “as a metaphor for the entire Christian life.”

In December 1943, following Bonhoeffer’s capture and imprisonment by the Nazis, he continued to hold fast to that belief, even in dark days. Writing from his prison cell, he said: “We simply have to wait and wait. … 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.”

As we journey through this second Advent/Christmas season of the pandemic, Bonhoeffer’s words ring particularly true for me this year. These have been difficult years for congregations, for pastors, and for all of us in various ways—draining energy, strength, health, finances, attendance, and more in turn.

It has not been easy. But as Bonhoeffer proclaimed in the deep darkness of his era and as Mary and Joseph and shepherds and others did in the difficult days of first-century, Roman-occupied Palestine, we, too, continue to hold on to hope. We trust that God is at work in the midst of it all. And what better season than Advent to remind us that the road to miracles and new life often requires waiting and watching.

In his final Advent message, in 1944, Bonhoeffer smuggled out words to his sister that were later shaped into the hymn “By Gracious Powers,” translated into English by Fred Pratt Green. In part it says:

“And when this cup you give is filled to brimming / with bitter suffering, hard to understand, we take it thankfully and without trembling / out of so good and so beloved a hand.

“Yet when again in this same world you give us / the joy we had, the brightness of your sun, / we shall remember all the days we lived through / and our whole life shall then be yours alone.”

Blessings to each of you as we approach Christmas once again, in another year when the dark days of winter might feel especially long. May you live in the hope of the promise that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, NIV).

Schedule note: Walt will be on vacation Dec. 23-Jan. 3 and only checking email for any emergency communications during that time.