Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who is probably best known for his courageous opposition to Adolph Hitler in Germany. He was a part of the resistance movement, and was executed by the Nazi regime in April,1945.

The Mystery of Holy Night is a compilation of some of Bonhoeffer’s meditations on Christmas. Included are brief excerpts from sermons and commentaries as well as poetry, interspersed with scripture and beautiful artwork. There is also a letter that he wrote to his parents from Tegel Prison on the first Sunday in Advent in 1943.

In the letter Bonhoeffer reflects on spending Christmas in such a seemingly dark place: “From the Christian point of view, spending Christmas in prison doesn’t pose any special problem. Most likely a more meaningful and authentic Christmas is celebrated here by many people than in places where only the name of the feast remains…God turns toward the very places from which humans tend to turn away…”

The reader is drawn into the beauty and deep meaning of The Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise. Bonhoeffer calls it the oldest Advent hymn. As he examines the song, he effectively leads us to apply it to our own lives and experiences. He also writes of the ancient prophecies and invites the reader to marvel at the miracle of it all. “We who don’t know what will happen next year, how are we to understand someone looking out over centuries?”

We are reminded that the event of Christ’s birth brings past and future together, and that it is a moment in time that changes everything: “ It really passes all understanding: the birth of a child is to bring the great turning around of all things, is to bring salvation and redemption to the whole human race.”

I have used this book in my personal Advent devotionals for several years. Every time I read it I receive new insights, new points to ponder. I am filled again with the wonder and mystery of this holy season. It has helped me to preserve the sacred space around Christmas, something that is not always easy to do with the world pressing in trying to distract me. I never want to let the true Christmas pass me by.

“Jesus Christ is the love of God become human for all men and women, and hence he is not a preacher of abstract ethical ideologies, but the concrete executor of the love of God.”

(The Mystery of Holy Night is edited by Manfred Weber and translated by Peter Heinegg.)