God Is in the Manger

There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, circa 1930s

I’ve been reading an Advent devotional this year, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I had heard the name Bonhoeffer before, but didn’t really know much about him. Bonhoeffer, born in 1906, was a German Lutheran pastor. He became part of the resistance movement against Nazism and was arrested in 1943 for his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was executed in April 1945.  He left behind many writings, letters, lectures, papers and his diaries that show his theology clearly. This devotional brings together bits of those sources and, combined with scripture, highlights several of Bonhoeffer’s beliefs: “that Christ expresses strength best through weakness, that faith is more important than the beguiling trappings of religion, and that God is often heard most clearly by those in poverty and distress.” (Preface)

The book is divided into the four weeks of Advent, each week having a theme— waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation— and those are followed by devotions for the days following Christmas up through January 5, Epiphany. Obviously I haven’t read all of them yet, so my review is based on the first couple of weeks.

The readings are short, but to the point. Each provides insight from Bonhoeffer, followed by a scripture passage. Some are personal, like letters to his fiancée, others from papers that were meant for the public, but each provides food for thought, has me looking at what Advent really is about. It’s joyful and hopeful, but in a quiet, serious kind of way.

The coming of God is truly not only a joyous message but is, first, frightful news for anyone who has  a conscience. and only when we have felt the frightfulness of the matter can we know the incomparable favor. God comes in the midst of evil, in the midst of death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And in judging it, he loves us, he purifies us, he sanctifies us, he comes to us with his grace and love.

I don’t know that Bonhoeffer’s writing will strike a chord with everyone, but it has for me. And I especially like seeing how his theology, his beliefs carry over in to his personal letters from the prison. He’s authentic.

Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent: one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.

This collection is thought-provoking, challenging, perfect for the season. It’s not my favorite Advent devotional. That would be Watch for the Light, which interestingly contains some of his writings also, but I am glad I picked it up.

4 out of 5 stars

Category: Devotional- Advent & Christmas

Published August 30, 2010 by Westminster John Knox Press
96 pages

Purchase on Amazon or an Indie bookstore.

Book source: For Review