On Advent Sunday, November 28, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent a card to his parents from the Tegel Prison in Berlin. He had been arrested by the Gestapo and taken into custody eight months earlier, charged with denouncing Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, for repudiating the German Christians and German churches who were supporting Hitler, for running an illegal underground seminary at Finkenwalde, and for preaching, teaching, and writing for the Confessing Church movement. The front of the card pictured this nativity scene painted by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1511.
In the card, Bonhoeffer describes this painting as his favorite depiction of the nativity.
“One sees the holy family huddled around the manger amidst the rubble of a collapsed house. This is really contemporary.”
I imagine this 450-year-old painting reminded Bonhoeffer of the destruction throughout his home country, the bombed-out buildings in his old neighborhood. This scene could have been painted almost anywhere in Europe in the middle of World War 2. And what Bonhoeffer wrote about it on Advent Sunday 1943 could have been written on Advent Sunday 2020.
“One sees the holy family huddled around the manger amidst the rubble of a collapsed house. This is really contemporary. For the celebration of Advent is only possible to those troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. We can and should celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us. In fact, we must do this even more intensely now.”
May our God bless us as we faithfully wait and prepare and anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.