For many Americans – even to those who have little in terms of wealth – Christmas is an all-around feel-good day of presents and feasting.
But what happens when all of that wealth is removed? Can Christmas still be a wonderful time even when we’ve been stripped of comfort, happiness, and freedom?
Two lovers discovered the answer to that question in the midst of World War II. The Christmas of 1943 found author and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi prison due to his role in the plot to overthrow Adolph Hitler. Yet despite his dire circumstances – which would eventually end in execution – Bonhoeffer penned a few hope-filled Christmas letters to his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer. His words should give us pause: could we express so much contentment and peace in a Christmas fraught with misery and loss?
“Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide. We shall both experience a few dark hours – why should we disguise that from each other? We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand… And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” – Dec. 13, 1943
“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that every outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious; the emptier our hands, the better we understand what Luther meant by his dying words: “We’re beggars; it’s true.” The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.” – December 1, 1943
Image Credit: Pimthida via flickr Creative Commons