From When the Time Was Fulfilled: Christmas Meditations

Condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler, Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, wrote this piece in a Nazi prison shortly before he was hanged in 1945.

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.

Two years ago I was given a little angel for Advent. It bore the inscription, “Rejoice, for the Lord is near.” A bomb destroyed the angel and killed the man who gave it to me. I feel he is doing me the service of an angel now.

The horror of war would be unendurable unless we kept being encouraged by the promises that have been spoken. There always are angels of annunciation, speaking their message of good news into the midst of anguish, scattering their seed of blessing that will spring up one day in the midst of the night. They call us to hope. These are not yet the loud angels of rejoicing and fulfillment that come out into the open, like the angels of the first Christmas. Quiet, inconspicuous, they come into rooms and hearts as they did then. Quietly they bring God’s questions and proclaim to us the wonders of God, for whom nothing is impossible.

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

For all its seriousness, Advent is a time of inner security, because we have received a message from on high. Oh, if it ever happens that we forget the message and the promises; if all we know is the four walls and the prison windows of our gray days; if we can no longer hear the gentle step of the announcing angels; if our souls are no longer both shaken and exalted by their whispered word – then it will be all over with us. We are living wasted time and are dead long before they do us any harm.

If we want to be alive, then we must first believe in the golden seed of God that the angels have scattered and are still offering to open hearts. Then we must walk through the gray days of our time as announcing messengers. So many need their courage strengthened, so many are in despair and in need of comfort, there is so much harshness that needs a gentle hand and an illuminating word, so much loneliness crying out for a word of release, so much loss and pain in search of inner meaning! God’s messengers know that the Lord is casting seed of blessing into these hours of history as well.

Understanding this world in the light of Advent means to endure in faith, waiting for the fertility of the silent earth, the abundance of the coming harvest – not because we put our trust in the earth but because we have heard God’s message and have met one of God’s angels ourselves.

Advent is the time of promise; it is not yet the time of fulfillment. To eyes that do not see, it seems as though the final dice are being cast down here in the valley of death: on the battlefields, in the cities of violence and poverty, in the souls of millions who live lives of desperation. Those who are awake, however, sense the working of other powers – eternal realities, which shine their light of the radiant fulfillment to come.

From afar sound the first notes, not yet discernible as a song or melody. The new song of God’s future is still far off and only just announced and foretold. But fulfillment is happening. It is occurring today. And tomorrow the angels will tell what has happened with loud, rejoicing voices, and we will know it and be glad.