Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 2, 1928
Each of the last three Advents I have been spending time with God is in the Manger, a collection of Advent and Christmas-themed writings by the great German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And each of the last three years I have been stopped dead in my tracks by the quote above. The following are a few reflections taken from a journal entry after encountering these words again this morning.
Overcome what overwhelms us…
At times, I am easily overwhelmed—by the evil and suffering of our world, by the ease with which I sometimes feel despair rising in my heart, by the pain and confusion that people I love must navigate, by the doom and gloom forecasts of the future of the church, by the stresses and strains of parenting, by a clogged inbox… Jesus, over-come… Come-over the many things, whether significant or trivial, that threaten to bury energy, optimism, hope.
Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness…
It’s so much easier, amidst the lights and the colours of the season, amidst all the vague, shapeless, and undemanding good will that floats about our cities and towns and churches, to think about easier things… But if Advent is about preparing room for the coming of a Saviour, then surely part of what this implies is that some things will have to give way. I will have to stare honestly at the uneven ground in my life, at the crooked paths that I have forged. I will have to acknowledge that I am a fickle, unfaithful, and self-interested lover of God and others… So, Jesus, come close to this mess. Do not be squeamish, do not look away in embarrassed pity or righteous anger. Come close.
Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave…
Share it. Don’t “conquer it” or “judge it” or “expose it” or any of the other verbs I more readily associate with God’s relationship to my sin. Share it. What could Bonhoeffer mean by this? Perhaps just this: Bear the burden with me, assume the heavy weight of long years of futile struggle. Love and lead me even when—especially when!—I am a grimy, ugly bundle of contradictions, when I cannot walk away from that which is destroying me. Teach me how to leave the things that I cannot leave.
Be my brother, Thou Holy God…
My brother. I acknowledge you as King and Saviour, as Shepherd and Judge, as Deliverer and Lover of my soul. Yes, you are all of these things, and I am glad that you are. But today, I need a brother. One who knows and sees me not from some lofty perch, but from right beside me. From a position of sameness. Not because I think we are equals—dear God, no!—but because I need the hand of one who has walked in this “kingdom of evil and suffering and death,” the hand of one who knows the shape of a human life.
The hand of one who knows how to shape a human life.