Dec. 3—Advent with Bonhoeffer


See, I am making all things new . . .
Revelation 21:5

Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

We are in Advent. Advent has a depth, power, and mystery that I find particularly moving. This has been true for me from the time I was a young boy. The hymns of Advent are among my favorites and, no doubt, contribute to the hold Advent has over me: Come, thou long expected Jesus; Lo, he comes with clouds descending; O come, O come, Emmanuel; Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding. These hymns capture the major themes and ethos of Advent—waiting and expectation, penitence and preparation. They also capture yearning, human yearning, my yearning, and I suspect yours as well, for love, for light, for Christ, to enter into the dark places of our lives and of our world and to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Each and every Advent is pregnant with this possibility and, indeed, this promise.

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the book God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. It is a wonderful collection of daily devotions for the season of Advent as well as the twelve days of Christmas written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The reflections were edited and compiled by Professor Jana Riess, who selected appropriate and powerful readings from Bonhoeffer’s wider corpus.[1]

As you probably know, Bonhoeffer was a pastor of the so-called Confessional Church in Hitler’s Germany. He was vocal in his criticism of Hitler and of Nazism and was eventually arrested and executed for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Before his execution, he spent two years in prison. Many of the entries in this volume are taken from that period and illustrate the depth of his faith and love of God. It is Bonhoeffer the pastor who shines throughout the volume.

In the first of the Advent entries, Bonhoeffer addresses the theme of Advent waiting. He writes:

As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands of you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us. Do you want to close the door or open it?

It may strike us as strange to see Christ in such a near face, but he said it, and those who withdraw from the serious reality of the Advent message cannot talk of the coming of Christ in their heart either…

Christ is knocking. It’s still not Christmas, but it’s also still not the great last Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be ‘see, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5)

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.[2]

May God bless you and those you love during this holy time of waiting.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Bishop Stokes's SignatureThe Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey



[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas—translated by O.C. Dean, Jr.; Compiled and Edited by Jana Riess (Louisville: Westminster -John Knox Press, 2010)

[2] Ibid, p. 2