The Unsettledness of Advent

This year I’m using God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas as my daily Advent devotional. It’s taken from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German pastor and theologian who lived, wrote, and ministered during the build up to World War II. After the Nazi government took control of the state church in Germany, Bonhoeffer operated an illegal seminary to train pastors in the Confessing Church movement that opposed the Nazification of the German church. He later took part in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The plot was ultimately unsuccessful, he was imprisoned for his role within the conspiracy, and was executed in a Concentration Camp.

One of the devotions stopped me short as I read it. Part of the devotion said this:

Not everyone can wait: neither the sated nor the satisfied more those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them and people who look up with reverence to the greatest in the world. Thus Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, and who sense something of the greatness that is supposed to come, before which they can only bow in humble timidity, waiting until he inclines himself towards us—the Holy One himself, God in the child in the manger. God is coming; the Lord Jesus is coming; Christmas is coming. Rejoice, O Christendom!

Reading that totally reframed Advent for me. We tend to think of Advent as a time to feel content. We tend to think of Advent as a time to feel peace. We tend to think of Advent as a time to feel hope and joy. But here Bonhoeffer says its only the restless who can celebrate Advent, is only those who don’t have peace who can celebrate Advent, only those who feel incomplete.

Reading this reminded me that Advent is the time when we desire something more. Something that won’t come in the presents under the tree at Christmas, something that can’t be bought at a store. Advent is a time when we desire God Himself to come to our world, to redeem our world, and to perfect our world. Advent is a time when we desire God to set right those things that are wrong, to remake us in God’s image, and to heal all the hurts our fallen world has caused. Advent is for those who realize this world is not as it should be and who cry out in lament. Advent is a time for the dreamers, those who believe that what is doesn’t have to be. And what could be ought to become what is.

May you be unsettled this Advent. May you be troubled. For in the unsettling and in the troubled we imagine divine possibility within our created world. May you see the promise imbedded within the unsettled and within the troubled. And may you find your hope in the promise that God is coming, the Lord Jesus is coming, Christmas is coming.

Matt Benton, pastor of Bethel United Methodist, husband, dad, and trusted pastor friend of Brenda. 

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