“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul…”
“The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We began thinking about our Christmas letter from Poland by thinking about how difficult things are right now for so many, and how hard times may influence our celebration of Christmas.
Christmas comes in the midst of floods, fires, foreclosures, and famine, financial disaster, family loss, public fears, wars and rumors of wars, unforgiven slights and secret pain. For some, celebrating with hope and joy this Christmas will demand deep wells of courage and faith. Many may feel unable to rejoice, held prisoner by hurts or hatreds.
Here in Poland a person can’t think about anything at all without seeking a link and a context in history. Thinking about how we greet Christmas is no different.
The Saturday before Christmas we’ll celebrate with a new church community in Wrocław, Poland—for a time called Breslau, Germany. Wrocław at Christmas brings to mind one of its most famous native sons, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man of courage, passion and compassion who often reflected upon “what Christmas really is.”
In his 1943 Christmas letter to his parents—his first in a Nazi prison camp—Bonhoeffer wrote:
From a Christian point of view, a Christmas in a prison cell is no special problem. It will probably be celebrated in this house more sincerely and with more meaning than outside where the holiday is observed in name only. Misery, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something entirely different in the eyes of God than in the judgment of men.
That God turns directly toward the place where men are careful to turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because he found no room in the inn—a prisoner grasps that better than someone else. For him it really is a joyous message, and because he believes it, he knows that he has been placed in the Christian fellowship that breaks all the bounds of time and space; and the months in prison cease to matter.
No matter what your circumstance this Christmas, we hope you will find God’s joy, hope, love and peace, Wherever you are, you are in “the Christian fellowship that breaks all the bounds of time and space.”
Below, we’re sharing with you Bonhoeffer’s 1943 Christmas “Morning Prayer” raised up with other prisoners in the direst of circumstances. It reads like a psalm, and summons us to the core of Christmas hope. Pray with Bonhoeffer, then share his prayer with others in your community, won’t you?
May your heart’s inn find room for Christ this Christmas. Ultimately, none of the rest of it really matters.
Doug, Liz, Mackenzie & Mick Searles
Łódż, Poland Christmas, 2008
God, to you I call early in the morning.
Help me pray
And gather my thoughts to yourself
I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark,
But with you is the light;
I am lonely, but you forsake me not;
I am faint-hearted, but with you is help;
I am restless, but with you is peace;
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience;
I do not understand my way, but
You know the way for me.
Father in Heaven,
Praise and thanks
Be yours for the night’s rest.
Praise and thanks be your for the new day.
Praise and thanks be yours for all your kindness
And faithfulness in my past life.
You have shown me much good,
Let me now receive from your hand
What is hard.
You will not lay upon me
More than I can bear.
For your children you let all things
Serve for the best.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And miserable, captive and forsaken as I am.
You know every need of humans,
You remain with me
When no man stands by me,
You forget me not and seek me,
You will that I recognize you
And turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow,
Give me the faith that rescues me from
Despair, addictions, and vice,
Give me the love for God and humans,
That destroys all hate and bitterness,
Give me the hope that frees me from
Fear and despondency.
Holy, merciful God,
My Creator and my Savior,
My Judge and my Deliverer,
You know me and everything I do.
You hate and punish evil in this world
And in the next with no respect of persons;
You forgive sins for the one
Who asks sincerely;
You love good and reward it on this
Earth with a good conscience
And in the world to come
With the crown of righteousness.
Before you I think of all my loved ones,
And of my fellow prisoners, and of all those
Who do their hard service in this house.
Lord, have mercy!
Grant me freedom again,
And let me so live in the present
That I can live responsibly
Lord, whatever else this day brings—
May your name be praised!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung April 9, 1945, in Flossenberg concentration camp. He was 39.
Liz & Doug Searles in Lodz, Poland
and Mackenzie and Mick (in Oregon and Michigan)
Doug and Elizabeth Searles serve with the Evangelical Reformed Church in Poland. They serve as mission workers for church growth and outreach.