Monday, December 3, 2007

Bonhoeffer on waiting

Happy New Year!—the church liturgical year, that is. Every year it begins with the season of Advent. It is not yet Christmas (which is celebrated over the twelve days from December 25 until Epiphany on January 6), for advent means “coming.” The Christkindl (Christ child) isn’t here so soon; peace and goodwill haven’t yet been made incarnate. Like those faithful who had to wait for thousands of years for the Messiah to come his first time, Advent is a season to wait upon the promises of God that light our ways in darkness, flickering candles that point the way to the inbreaking of a greater dawn (Luke 1:78-79).

Like last year, I’m reading through a series of Advent and Christmas sermons by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose writings I’ve found to be extremely formative in some aspects of my life. Here is what he has to say about waiting in a sermon from December 2, 1928. The sermon is based upon Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

Celebrating Advent means learning to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise, rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands.

The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when they answers are revealed in dazzling clarity.

Who has not felt the anxieties of waiting for the declaration of friendship or love? The greatest, the deepest, the most tender experiences in all the world demand patient waiting. This waiting is not in emotional turmoil, but gently growing, like the emergence of spring, like God’s laws, like the germinating of a seed.

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 possibly only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who can look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons, Edwin Robertson, ed., tr., (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2005), 20.


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

"The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who can look forward to something greater to come."

Thanks for the reminder. It is easy to look at myself as a scientist and know where I'm coming up short - there are check lists that make this part easy. I'm never sure though, how much of my distress is really due to feeling like I make Christ look bad or my own foolish pride when I don’t excel at work. Either way, it is good to be reminded that it is normal to look at yourself and long for something greater and more like Christ. Surely, I need to remember that even as I wait for Advent, I also wait for God to remake me - for it is surely Him, not me, who is at work in my both to will and to do His good pleasure.

Clearly, patient waiting is an area that God has been dealing with me on for many years. I want Him to “fix” me – and to do it NOW!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Andrew, for this excellent post and thoughts from Bonhoeffer. I love Bonhoeffer, and I need to get this book of Christmas sermons you have; I wonder what book it is.

Thanks, too, Halfmom, AKA, Susan for your good thoughts here.

Craver Vii said...

Waiting is difficult indeed.