Bonhoeffer’s Frontline Christmas

I’ve been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters And Papers From Prison. He was a German pastor & member of the German Resistance against the Nazi Party during World War II. Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually martyred just before the end of the war.

What strikes me is the humanity of his letters. They give depth that doesn’t emerge in the rigorous theology of his academic writings. Christmas 1943 was Bonhoeffer’s first in prison. He had been away from family, and his fiancé, for almost a year.

To his close friend, he confessed hope for a release or maybe a visit under house arrest. Bonhoeffer never got the chance. Instead, he celebrated alone. He observed what he called a “frontline” Christmas. He hummed hymns, burned candles, and read the day’s daily texts.

Bonhoeffer’s frontline Christmas is both convicting & compelling. For one, because we must never forget the dignity & humanity of people spending Christmas in the criminal justice system. And also because vague sentimentality & romanticism just isn’t cutting it right now for “the spirit of the season.” And maybe that’s for the better.

Celebrating Christmas doesn’t require us to suspend reality. The spirit of Christmas is that God entered reality. It is a season marked by longing, want, and expectation, yet a reminder that God meets these in Christ. These are precisely what puts us in the right place to understand what Advent really is: waiting with hope.

If you find yourself dreading this Christmas because of the state of the world. Or asking “just how I can act like everything is ok?” Just know 80 odd years ago there was a German pastor in his cell, humming a Christmas hymn to himself, his God, and his guards. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. Merry Christmas.

Published by Jared Stacy

Jared is an American Pastor, writer, and PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

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