Advent Lesson Six: The Crux of Advent

Excerpt from the book, Letters & Papers from Prison, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

[Tegel] 18 November 1943

Bonhoeffer writes this to Eberhard Bethge:

“. . .  Then comes Advent, with all its happy memories for us.  It was you who really first opened up to me the world of music-making that we have carried on during the weeks of Advent.  Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent:  one waits, hopes, does this, that, or the other — things that are really of no consequence — the door is shut and can be opened only from the outside!”

And in 1967, Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller wrote an Appendix to the reprinted edition of “Letters & Papers from Prison.”  Maria was engaged to be married to Bonhoeffer during the time of his imprisonment and his heroic death.

Under the heading, “Life in Prison,” she recalls this about Bonhoeffer:

“He lived by church holidays and by seasons, rather than by the calendar month and the dates on his letters were approximations at best.  He voiced his disappointment that he had not received a letter from me or anyone else expressly for Whit Sunday.  About Advent, he wrote:

‘A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, does various unessential things, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.’ [21 November 1943]

Margot’s Commentary:

Is there a better description of what Advent is? Today, meditate upon this essential truth above, written by Bonhoeffer, theologian, Lutheran pastor, martyr and one of the most significant witnesses of the 20th century.  Also, read and meditate upon the lyrics of the Advent Hymn, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, printed below.   Study the verses and, if possible, listen to a CD recording of this beautiful hymn.

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.


O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave.


O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. 


O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.


O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe.


O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on thy mercy call.


O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.


O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.


Words: Latin, twelfth century;
trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1851

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