Jesus Christ in the Front-Line Trenches
What comes after Christmas has passed?
Helmut Thielicke, a beloved German Theologian of the last century, shared the following:
“…of all people it is the poets who have become the pastors of our time, who do not hand out [idealistic sentiments], fulfillments, and solutions to problems but rather cry out their dread, their nothingness, and their despair to the world. How else can we explain the fact that people reach out for the poems of Gottfried Benn? The ‘Song of the Passion’ says: Wounds must heal wounds. The wounded seek refuge with the wounded. There they are understood, and that by itself means a lot.
“Every year around Christmastime thoughts like these come to me. People strain themselves to the utmost to give themselves and others a few hours of joy. Wishes are fulfilled; we step out of the moment, in which ordinarily we are completely absorbed, and restore connection with our own childhood. We remember our mothers in whose protecting care we once lived, the mothers who told us about the Christ Child and Father Christmas. The hardest men sing touching little songs, and in the soft light of candles our hearts leap up….[But] then when the candles burn down, leaving only blackened stumps or nothing at all, there comes a secret feeling of uneasiness: we have to go back behind the counter again in the big store, back to our examinations, the flurry in the office, or a clattering machine. This quiet world around the candles is so different from our ordinary life that we cannot connect the two, and in a short time the brightness vanishes behind us–like the lights of the station when we pass the curve.
“But the intent of Christmas is something totally different. The Child in the crib….was homeless. He was shoved off into a stable. Shortly afterward his parents went out on the road as refugees in order to escape Herod’s massacre of the children. Then came the life-long hostility of men; the Child always remained, even after he grew up, a fugitive. His heart trembled under the impact of all the temptations, and fears that shake us too. And finally this life ended as it began. He was shoved out of the world; he died on a gallows that had the form of a cross. This Man who loved infinitely, and therefore suffered infinitely as he saw men running headlong to their own destruction–they had no use for him. Crib and cross–they are both of the same wood, they are a piece.
“And I believe that all this, with all its terror, is infinitely more comforting than the soft, sweet spirit we seek at Christmas, which afterward leaves only a hung-over, letdown feeling if it is the only thing there is in it. Jesus Christ did not remain at base headquarters in heaven, receiving reports of the world’s suffering from below and shouting a few encouraging words to us from a safe distance. No, he left the headquarters and came down to us in the front-line trenches, right down to where we live and worry about what [our enemies] may do, where we contend with our anxieties and the feeling of emptiness and futility, where we sin and suffer guilt, and where we must finally die. There is nothing that he did not endure with us. He understands everything.
“….He does not wear the disinterested face of those people who live in the village called “religion” far behind the mountains of the wicked world; he has the eyes of a person who knows his way about the ruins in our life. Wounds must heal wounds. He became one of the wounded because he wanted to be one of us. And therefore that Face does not vanish when the candles go out. For this Figure knows everything: of my loneliness, when I am alone or in the midst of my fellows, of the things in my life that I cannot handle, of the villain who is bedeviling me, of all my fears. For this Companion is with me in the front-line trenches. I can accept everything from his hand, for his hand knows and controls all things. And he lets down the drawbridge by which I can enter the fortress, long since forgotten, where I shall be secure.”
(Christ and the Meaning of Life, Sermons of Helmut Thielicke, edited and translated by John W. Doberstein, [Harper & Row, 1962], pp. 17-19)
Wishing you a most blessed 2013! :)