The frightening side of Advent: Bonhoeffer’s Christmas sermons
For many Christians like me, Christmas is a time of comfort, of peace, and of abundance. We’re fortunate if that is the case. But what if Christmas is intended to be an annual reminder of our need for a Savior to break into our darkness, our “homelessness,” and for us to be convicted of our lack of offensive faith? What if Advent, the season leading up to the celebration of the Incarnation, ought not make us sentimental and satisfied but rather challenge us to live out our sentness as bold heralds of Christ’s coming?
I picked up a Kindle deal this weekend on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Advent sermons, preached between 1928 and his death in 1945. In the first section, featuring a sermon preached in Barcelona on 2 December 1928, Bonhoeffer opened,
“Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait.”
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Then, he later made two statements that challenged my Advent meditations this year:
“Not all can wait – certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they live in the best of all possible worlds! Those who learn to wait are uneasy about their way of life, but yet have seen a vision of greatness in the world of the future and are patiently expecting its fulfillment. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
“Perhaps we have thought so much of God as love eternal and we feel the warm pleasures of Christmas when he comes gently like a child. We have been shielded from the awful nature of Christmas and no longer feel afraid at the coming near of God Almighty. We have selected from the Christmas story only the pleasant bits, forgetting the awesome nature of an event in which the God of the universe, its Creator and Sustainer, draws near to this little planet and now speaks to us. The coming of God is not only a message of joy, but also fearful news for anyone who has a conscience.”
Without doubt, the people of Christ should rejoice that the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14) and that the Dayspring has visited us, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1.78-79). But we must also be reminded that the birth of Jesus brings judgment on those who do not know him. The Jesus of the manger is also the Jesus foretold in Malachi 4.1-3. Both demand of His children a bold telling of Good News.
Jeff K. Walters is assistant professor of Christian missions and urban ministry at Southern Seminary. Before teaching at the seminary, he was a church planter in Paris, France. He is a contributing author to a new book entitled: Introduction to Global Missions. This article originally appeared on Dr. Walters blog at: http://dayspringproject.org. You can follow Dr. Walters on Twitter at: @jeffkwalters