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Hallo again to all.

This morning our parish had a service of Advent lessons and carols in place of the usual Sunday morning principal service. The church was as beautiful as we have ever seen it. Outside, the sky was crisp, the weather clear, the air clean, the parking lot full. Inside, a reverent attitude of expectation and quiet filled the place: lights were extinguished and the stained glass windows proclaimed the sun's light within. We sang Advent hymns and heard prophecies of Christ's birth. It was a perfect, 90-minute island of tangible Advent in our week of bustle and movement. Since November (and even earlier in our part of the world) the secular potlatch of Winterval/Christmas has been hard to escape. Hours after the service we remain grateful to the clergy and choristers who today gave us a much-needed injection of Advent to dispel some of the encroaching nonsense of 'holidays' that make us feel from time to time like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Alfred DelpOver and over today our minds turned from the cozy suburban parish where we worshipped in song and common prayer to a quieter, colder, holier, stranger place: the prison cell of Alfred Delp, the German Jesuit priest and anti-Nazi organizer whose newly-translated World War II Advent parish sermons from Munich and prison meditations have been our companions on the commuter train these last two weeks. Delp was closely involved in the Kreisau Circle, a group that met to discuss and plan various ways to end German National Socialism. Its most well-known activity was the failed July 1944 assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that led to the arrest, torture and execution of many resistance leaders, including Delp. In the sixty years since, other Christians in the German resistance have become household names: Hans and Sophie Scholl, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rupert Mayer, Martin Niemöller, the Stauffenbergs. But Delp has stayed mostly hidden.

We suspect that one of the reasons for Delp's hiddenness even today was encoded from the start in his Advent-inflected life. Delp was born, baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran; he became a Roman Catholic and a Jesuit by adult conviction; he opposed the Nazi régime from its outset because he saw its concrete evil and reacted with horror. But throughout his life Delp was always moving toward the call of discipleship in new situations, with new and more intense understandings. He does not give us Holy Week and Easter as neatly as Sophie Scholl or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an Advent man. In the words of one modern commentator, this was

because in Advent an expectation becomes tangible, breaking through all encrustation, calling inflexibility into question, and above all, renewing [us] and sending [us on our] way, on a new and unknown journey. The mood of the Exodus, the certainty of the promise that applied to that departure, the joy of experiencing that God can be relied upon—all of these are essential to Advent. Delp's years had an Advent character primarily because they were filled with trouble and danger.

What strikes us so about Delp's Advent meditations is that they are suffused with light, with expectant joy in the Blessed Virgin's pregnancy, with humble and confident hope. They are filled with beauty and sincerity, though physically he was mired in real darkness. They are filled with angels who say Do not fear. It is impossible to think and hard to remember that they were written surreptitiously in conditions of sleep deprivation, 24-hour light, near-starvation and with his hands in shackles:

God's are the day and the night, the fetters and the freedom, the prison and the wide world. In each of these, the deep sense of an encounter with God should fulfill itself. Only, one must demand the ultimate meaning of everything, ask every question down to the last. Our questions unveil themselves as questions seeking God and, at the same time, questions posed by God. [...] They unveil themselves as the message and annunciation of God. Endure every night until its middle. It unveils itself as Christ-Mass, the Consecration-Night of God's arrival.* The knowers, the watchers, the callers—those who know about God and His order, those who are awake and watching for Him, and those who are tirelessly calling Him—they will transform the fetters into a sacrament of freedom.

This morning in a place of wealth, warmth and comfort, our rector bade us to pray as follows, and it took us in our hearts to Alfred Delp, priest of Advent:

Let us also remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which none can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh: and let us pray that we may be counted among that communion of saints, receiving grace to offer unto God reasonable service, living in unity and fellowship with all his people and giving reverence to all that he hath made.

Amen, Amen, and Amen.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 10 December 2006

*Even in Tegel prison just before his death, Delp was writing with puns. Christmas in German is Weihnacht. He pulls it apart to weihe-nacht, or consecration-night.

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