As we begin the Christian season of Advent I am reminded of one of my heroes, Pastor Alfred Depp, courageous Lutheran who was eventually hung by the Nazis. Pastor Depp wrote from his prison cell about the comfort that is to be found, even in the worst of situations, in the promises of Advent. Advent is not a time in which our church celebrates the presence of God, the salvation of the world; it is the time when we focus upon the promises of Incarnation, the promise of the advent of the light that “shines in the darkness.”
I see Advent this year with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before.
Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way,
with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and
different understanding of God’s promise of redemption and release.
This reminds me of the angel that was given to me two years ago for Advent by a kind person. The angel bore the inscription, “Rejoice, for the Lord is near.” The
angel was destroyed by a bomb. A bomb killed the man who gave it to me, and I
often feel he is doing me the service of an angel.
The horror of these times would be unendurable unless we kept being cheered and set upright again by the promises that are spoken. The angels of annunciation, speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night, call us to hope. These are not yet the loud angels of rejoicing and fulfillment that come out into the open, the angels
of Advent. Quiet, inconspicuous, they come into rooms and before hearts as they
did then. Quietly the bring God’s questions and proclaim to us the wonders of
God, for whom nothing is impossible.
For all its earnestness, Advent is a time of inner security, because we have received a message. Oh, if it ever happens that we forget the message and the promises; if all we know is the four walls and the prison windows of our gray days; if we can no longer hear the gentle step of the announcing angels; if our soul no longer is at once shaken and exalted by their whispered word–then it will be all over with us. We are
living wasted time and are dead before they do us any harm.
–Alfred Delp, “The Shaking Reality of Advent,” in When the Time Was Fulfilled, Farmington, PA: Plough, 1965, pg. 16.
William H. Willimon