Homily for our Service of Lessons & Music on the life of John the Baptist, December 13, 2015
It’s been a hard few weeks, in the world. Violence at home and abroad. Racist and inflammatory rhetoric in the public square. Anguish about our environment. I’ve heard a number of folks saying, I’m having a hard time with Advent this year. I’m having a hard time finding hope, trusting the promises. Can God’s light dawn in times this dark?
And I’ve heard other folks say, But that’s just what Advent is – that’s what Advent is for. A season to look around with open eyes – to see the struggle, to hear the clamor, and to know: God loves anyway. God redeems anyway. The years when the world’s brokenness weighs heavy on our hearts and minds – those are the years when we experience Advent most truly and fully.
Alfred Delp described Advent as not just a season in the church, but a season in the life of the world. He wrote about it from a Nazi prison in 1944. I stumbled on Alfred Delp’s essay on Advent in this book –Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. My first thought was, Sheesh, the essay for December 5 is really long. Then I read it. Then I thought, This is a sermon, and I want to preach it.
So I’m going to read you part of it – Delp’s words on Advent, and on John the Baptist as one of the central figures of Advent.
First, a few more words about Delp. He was 37 when he died, executed by the Nazi regime for speaking his convictions, not unlike John the Baptist. He had been a teacher in Jesuit schools since his youth. During the early part of World War II, he worked at a Jesuit magazine until the Nazis shut it down, then served two churches in Munich, where he was part of the network that secretly helped Jews escape from Germany. Delp was arrested in July 1944, in the crackdown on the Catholic resistance to the Nazis that followed an attempt to assassinate Hitler. Though he hadn’t been involved in the plot, Delp was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. He spent six months in prison, during which he wrote this essay on Advent, among other spiritual writings. On December 8, a Jesuit leader came to visit Delp in prison and received his final monastic vows, completing his commitment to the Order. Delp was executed by hanging on February 2, 1945. On his way to the gallows, he turned to the prison chaplain and whispered, “In half an hour, I’ll know more than you do.”
In Delp’s essay on Advent you’ll hear that he sees God as the source of the chaos and darkness of the times, at least to some degree. Here he stands firmly in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, who tell Israel again and again that her struggles are a message from God – that if the rulers had been just and righteous, if the people had been faithful, then these calamities would not have fallen upon them. I am hesitant to say that the tragedies and brutalities of World War II represented God’s desire for humanity in any way. But Delp and the prophets who went before him have always faithfully named a simple and lasting truth: when we go wrong, things go wrong for us. Sometimes in big dramatic obvious ways, sometimes in subtle long-term ways. Call it God’s will, call it natural consequences, but when we, as a people, tolerate or even choose paths that lead us away from mercy, justice, righteousness, and peace, when we go wrong, things go wrong for us.
Here are Delp’s words on Advent, and on John.
Rev. Miranda read portions of the introduction and the section on John the Baptist from Alfred Delp’s essay “The Shaking Reality of Advent.” A portion of the essay may be read online here.