Timothy George has an excellent article at First Things about Bonhoeffer’s Last Advent. Actually, the article touches on several of Bonhoeffer’s advent experiences, including his 1940 sojourn to Ettal, a topic about which I have also written.
Advent, George says, was Bonhoeffer’s favorite liturgical season, seeing it as a “metaphor for the entire Christian life.” He quotes Bonhoeffer:
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.
After his arrest, he wrote his parents at the beginning of Advent in 1943:
Remember the Altdorfer Christmas scene, in which the Holy Family is depicted with the manger amidst the ruins of a broken down house? It is really contemporary. We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us.
Both quotes reminded me of something I wrote in a recent sermon:
I identify with the people of Israel as they lived in the time of exile. I think that we, like they, live among the ruins.
The article’s final Bonhoeffer quote, however, is perhaps its most moving.
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.