Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"With Greater Intensity and Anticipation": Alfred Delp and Advent

Tonight I’m sharing two quotes from Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest and philosopher who was part of the German Resistance during WWII. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Delp was imprisoned for his opposition to Hitler, and executed in 1945. Shortly before his death, Delp wrote extensively about Advent, recognizing it is a time to be “deeply shaken—the time not only to remember the birth of the Christ Child, but to participate in this unfolding and ultimate revelation of God that began in the Holy night.” (Jenny Howell, Advent of the Heart: The Prison Meditations of Alfred Delp, SJ).

Acting as a modern-day Paul, Delp reflected,
I see Advent with greater intensity and anticipation than ever before. Walking up and down in my cell, three paces this way and three paces that way, with my hands in irons and ahead of me an uncertain fate, I have a new and different understanding of God’s promise of redemption and release.”
(from in When the Time Was Fulfilled: Christmas Meditations).
From what is probably his most succinct and most quoted work, Delp writes uses his strengths as a philosopher to paint a picture of Advent as the “already; not yet” event of Christ’s first coming and future return: 
"Advent is the time of promise; it is not yet the time of fulfillment. We are still in the midst of everything and in the logical inexorability and relentlessness of destiny . . . Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But round about the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on them already the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come. From afar sound the first notes as pipes and voices, not yet discernible as a song or melody. It is all far off still, and only just announced and foretold. But it is happening, today."
(from Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944)
While we all have hardships that can make worship and reflection difficult, we live nowhere near the atrocities of Nazi Germany. If we were in Delp’s shoes today, would we focus as intently on God’s sure promise? Not a promise about his physical freedom from tyranny, but Israel’s ancient Advent promise and the fulfillment of that promise that had already come. It’s a convicting thought. For Paul the Apostle tells us even more plainly in his letter to the Romans (8:18),For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

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