December 2019 / January 2020 - Vol.107
manger and cloud
                                                          of consuming
                                                          fire by Kevin
God Speaks and Summons

“In the background of Advent stands the cross of judgment.”

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was the first of the German theologians to speak out clearly against the persecution of the Jews and the evils of the Nazi ideology. At the end of September 1937, Hitler's Gestapo closed the seminary which Dietrich Bonhoeffer had led at Finkenwalde. Bonhoeffer was forbidden to speak publicly and had to move from place to place to carry on his training of seminarians. Bonhoeffer wrote his sermon outlines and had them distributed. The following undated Advent sermon outline was written sometime between 1938-40.
The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
    from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
    God shines forth.
Our God comes, he does not keep silence,
    before him is a devouring fire,
    round about him a mighty tempest.
He calls to the heavens above
    and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me my faithful ones,
    who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
Psalm 50:1–5

“The mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth” as on the first day of creation he called it into being. Incessantly, he commands his creation. Thus, he loves his work by his word and his command.

But who can recognize him amidst the awesome splendor of nature? Where will you read his name? You must simply confess your faith: the creation remains dumb. God certainly speaks to the world, but not to you. He comes to you from a different direction: from Zion! It is here only that he allows you to see his friendliness and his glory. Here he shines upon you like the morning light after the darkness of the night. In Zion, the chosen place of his dwelling, the place of his promise and his faithfulness. It is here that the Creator manifests himself. Grace and compassion are his glory, friendliness his beautiful radiance.

In his radiance, the creator God is our God. He who summons the world, comes out of Zion as our God. He is our God in that he does not keep silent, but speaks to us. He does not speak to us in the same way as he speaks to nature. The radiance that shines forth at Bethlehem is the way God speaks to us.

As he places a flaming sword in front of paradise (Genesis 3:24), as Jacob must wrestle with the angry God at Jabbok (Genesis 32:25–27), so the devouring fire goes before him. In the same way the Baptist goes before Christ. Thus he comes to his saints and summons them to judgment. The message of Advent and of Christmas also is a terrible message: “May Jesus Christ be praised... Kyrie eleison! [Lord have mercy]”

Does he come to his saints, then, in judgment? Yes! You alone have I known! “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Lightening strikes the highest trees first. For God’s saints become holy by judgment and the kindness of the Lord. It is only by way of the flaming sword of the angel that one comes into the Promised Land. It is only through judgment that the grace, the radiance of forgiveness, and the kindness of God shines.

“Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me through sacrifice.” The saints are consecrated by the sacrifice of the cross. In the background of Advent stands the cross of judgment. Here in this sacrifice judgment and kindness are made one.

As at Christmas the heavens opened and on Good Friday those same heavens darkened, so also in this Psalm, all creation must serve “his people.” That is the purpose. All other words of creation must serve the Word from Zion. Once God has come into the midst of his people, then the judgment of God over all creation will be openly declared. Then it will be clear that this judgment, which began in Bethlehem, was fulfilled in Golgotha. Heaven and earth bows down before him. Christ is then the judge of all the earth.

See related Sermon by Bonhoeffer > From the Manger to the Cross

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and a founding member of the Confessing Church. He was the first of the German theologians to speak out clearly against the persecution of the Jews and the evils of the Nazi ideology. In spring of 1935 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was called by the Confessing Church in Germany to take charge of an “illegal,” underground seminary at Finkenwalde, Germany (now Poland). He served as pastor, administrator, and teacher there until the seminary was closed down by Hitler's Gestapo in September,1937.

In the seminary at Finkenwalde Bonhoeffer taught the importance of shared life together as disciples of Christ. He was convinced that the renewal of the church would depend upon recovering the biblical understanding of the communal practices of Christian obedience and shared life. This is where true formation of discipleship could best flourish and mature.

Bonhoeffer’s teaching led to the formation of a community house for the seminarians to help them enter into and learn the practical disciplines of the Christian faith in community. In 1937 Bonhoeffer completed two books, Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. They were first published in German in 1939. Both books encompass Bonhoeffer’s theological understanding of what it means to live as a Christian community in the Body of Christ.

He was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo in April 1943. On April 8, 1945 he was hanged as a traitor in the Flossenburg concentration camp. As he left his cell on his way to execution he said to his companion, "This is the end – but for me, the beginning of life."

credit: top illustration of manger and cloud of consuming fire by (c) Kevin Carden
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