It is no secret that I admire the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From college to seminary into the parish, I have kept Bonhoeffer's books nearby. I have been fortunate to study Bonhoeffer's theology in Germany and to take a Bonhoeffer Tour, traveling to all the major sights associated with his life and death. To say the least, I am humbled by what have read and seen.
Bonhoeffer's life was certainly complex, and the volumes about his life too numerous to mention. But on this Christmas Eve I thought I would share a small piece that has meant a great deal to me over the years: "The Moment of Fulfillment."*
Given the importance of children, I cannot help but reflect on Bonhoeffer's words about what God has done in the Christ Child on this Holy Night:
How do we wish to meet this child?
Have our hands become to hard and proud from daily work to fold themselves in adoration at the sight of this child?
Do we carry our head, which has had to think so many heavy thoughts and to solve so many problems, too high for us to bow to it humbly before the wonder of this child?
Can we one more time forget entirely all our strivings, accomplishments, and importance, to join the shepherds and the sages from the East and offer childlike adoration to the divine child in the manger?
To take, like old Simeon, this child in our arms and instantly acknowledge with gratitude the fulfillment of our entire life?
It is truly a strange sight when a strong, proud man bends his knee before this child, when with a simple heart he finds and reveres in him his Savior.
And our old, clever, experienced, self-assured world must no doubt shake its head, or perhaps even laugh with contempt, when it hears the cry of salvation from believing Christians: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
As I reflect on the children I have seen in Africa and Haiti, in Mexico and Europe, in Indiana and elsewhere, I am reminded of the Christ Child, and I am reminded of what Bonhoeffer wrote about the importance of children for theology. At the end of Act and Being, Bonhoeffer links Incarnation and hope, writing how "we all are children of the future"; "here in faith becoming a reality, there in vision perfected, this is the new creation of the new man of the future, who no longer looks back on himself but only away from himself to the revelation of God, to Christ; the man who is born out of the narrowness of the world into the breadth of Heaven, who becomes what he was or, it may be, never was: a creature of God - a child" (p. 184).**
On this Holy Night may we all be born out of our own narrowness and see how we are children of God and how we all may worship the Child of God among us.
*The Mystery of Holy Night, Edited by Manfred Weber; Translated by Peter Heinegg (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), p. 30.
**Act and Being, Introduction by Ernst Wolf; Translated by Bernard Noble (New York: Octagon Books, 1961), p. 184.