Fourth Sunday in Advent: Binding and Loosing

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Binding and Loosing

[Tegel Prison, Berlin, December 1944]

 

… Before the curtain rises and the scene is disclosed, stretching into infinity, expectation mounts in a crescendo of excitement. Our confidence is well founded and so is the suspense of waiting because the promise is already fulfilled and its truth demonstrated. Day triumphs and the darkness shrinks back into nothingness—like the shadows in the light-in-darknesswings when the stage is set as a temple of light. On the fourth Sunday in Advent the acute awareness of shrouded mystery is deepening for the final hour of darkness that heralds the dawn. There is an awareness of captivity, of crippling disability and despair, but it is already shot through with a premonition of divine grace…

 

No life is ever outside the scope of history or insignificant for it. But there is no such thing as holy, or unholy, history. History is creative being in action… Any attempt to escape history, to live outside of it as it were, to run away from reality, only leads to illusion. Escapism and reaction have no place in real life.

 

The gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent evokes history. It refers to the mighty who determines the structure of the small room in which the Light of the World will come into being, bringing salvation. In order to recognize that moment of historical crisis is implied here, we have to clothe these names with the memory of the part they played in history. From the imperial throne to the holy of holies the outlook was hopeless; even the priesthood had been corrupted by power politics, family egoism and narrow-minded bigotry.

 

Hopelessness—that is the iron with which history often seeks to fetter healing hands, breaking the hearts of the enlightened few and reducing them to trembling hesitancy or cheap silence or tired resignation. As Christians we ought to recognize these shackles of history for what they are; indeed to ignore them is sinful evasion. History does not have the last word but it is only through history that the decisive word can be carried into effect. If we fail to recognize this we are performing a masque before a graven image which deceives us, or with which we are trying to deceive ourselves, into a false sense of security…

 

dark-room-light-through-window-hunched-man1The power that will overcome the law of sin is not to be found within the heart of the sinner who seeks it. And he must first fulfill the necessary condition of a change of heart before he can even receive that redemptive power which lies beyond his reach. He must call upon it and then make himself ready so that he may go to meet it. Advent does not offer freedom to the man who is convinced he is already converted. Stir up they power: by the help of thy grace. It is a case of God against sin. Sin is very like a handcuff. It doesn’t matter how fervently I desire it, I cannot rid myself of my handcuffs because I have no key. And sin is like the door of my cell—even if I had a key I could not unlock the door because it has no keyhole on this side. It can only be opened from the outside…

 

There is no cause for depression, resignation or despair in all this—rather it should give us greater confidence and spur on to unrelenting effort. We must make a covenant with God against the evils that surround us: show mercy on us for we have hoped in you. It is essential and is the measure of the demand that God makes of us. He is as near to us as our desire for him; his mercy is as great as the wholeheartedness of our appeal to it; his freedom is as real and imminent as our belief in him and in his coming is unshaken and unshakable. That is the truth…

 

[excerpt from The Prison Memoirs of Father Alfred Delp]

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