Originally posted: Thursday, December 1, 2005
Thanks to one of the very good friends of this blog, the Pietist, (a Lutheran pastor who prays faithfully for all of us in ECUSA!) for posting this wonderful piece by Bonhoeffer on Advent!
The Coming of Jesus into Our Midst
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
When early Christianity spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus, they thought of a great day of judgment. Even though this thought may appear to us to be so unlike Christmas, it is original Christianity and to be taken extremely seriously. When we hear Jesus knocking, our conscience first of all pricks us: Are we rightly prepared? Is our heart capable of becoming God’s dwelling place? Thus Advent becomes a time of self-examination. “Put the desires of your heart in order, O human beings!” (Valentin Thilo), as the old song sings.
“Our whole life is an Advent, a time of waiting for the ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people will be brothers and sisters.”
It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth. That is why we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha.
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.
Only when we have felt the terror of the matter, can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy.
God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. Therefore we adults can rejoice deeply within our hearts under the Christmas tree, perhaps much more than the children are able. We know that God’s goodness will once again draw near. We think of all of God’s goodness that came our way last year and sense something of this marvelous home. Jesus comes in judgment and grace: “Behold I stand at the door! Open wide the gates!” (Ps. 24:7)
I found this brief reflection very challenging because I recognized myself in what Bonhoeffer wrote. I’ve been finding it hard this week to read the sobering passages from Amos and Matthew. How quickly we (or at least I!) want to push away the hard words of coming judgment and jump right to the comfortable news of “glad tidings of great joy” — yes we love the cuddly Baby in the manger, and we even love the battered and abused Christ on the Cross because of all that His death secured for us in terms of cleansing, redemption, salvation… but Jesus the Coming King, the Judge of all the Earth, He who will separate the sheep from the goats… we find much harder to embrace. Do we believe that God’s judgment is good news? Do we believe that God’s judgment is just? I need to continually examine my heart in these matters and let the reminder of coming judgment stir me to greater holiness and devotion, but also to more zealous evangelism and witness of the salvation that is found in Christ.