By the time you receive this letter...

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pictured) was a renowned Lutheran pastor, preacher and theologian. He was one of the most outspoken Christian voices raised in opposition against Adolph Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. His adamant resistance led to his arrest in April 1943 and his execution two years later. He was 39.

Shortly before his arrest, Bonhoeffer became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer — but after Bonhoeffer’s arrest, they would never see each other again outside the walls of his Berlin prison. During the two years of his incarceration, Dietrich and Maria exchanged hundreds of letters. In letters he wrote in November and December, 1943, Dietrich, facing his first Christmas in prison, wrote to Maria:

“By the time you receive this letter it will probably be Advent, a time especially dear to me. A prison cell like this, in which one watches and hopes and performs this or that ultimately insignificant task, and in which one is wholly dependent on the door’s being open from outside, is a far from inappropriate metaphor for Advent . . .

“I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words, ‘We’re all beggars, it’s true.’ The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth. So let us approach Christmas-tide not only undaunted but with complete confidence. And should God’s mercy reunite us at this season we shall have the finest earthly Christmas gifts in each other!”

Uncompromising hope and unconditional love — from a prison cell, a young pastor proclaims the meaning of Advent. 

Christ comes to release us from the prisons into which our fears, doubts, cynicism and despair entrap us, his Gospel of compassion and forgiveness the keys to the cell doors. 

These days of Advent invite us to embrace the poverty of the Christ Child who comes, to realize that before God we are all “beggars” who have been given the gift of life, not because of anything we have done to merit it, but only because of the limitless love of God. 

In a spirit of poverty, in embracing Christ’s emptiness to become one of us, may we make of our homes and hearts a dwelling place for the God who comes with compassion that heals and peace that liberates. 

– Dr John Frauenfelder, CSO Broken Bay 

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