Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Advent Preaching Seminar 2010
Good Shepherd Institute
Concordia Theological Seminary
Early Years
• Born on February 4, 1906 to Karl & Paula in Breslau.
• Studied in Tübingen and Berlin.
• Acceptance of Sanctorum Communio
as doctoral dissertation at University of
Berlin in 1927.
• Vicar for German congregation in
Barcelona in 1928-1929.
• Acceptance of Act and Being as
qualifying thesis at Berlin in 1930.
Bonhoeffer Chronology-Cont
• In 1930-1931, Bonhoeffer studied at Union
Seminary in New York City.
Bonhoeffer Chronology-Cont
• Becomes a lecturer in theology at University of Berlin
(1931)
• Ordained at St. Matthew’s Church in Berlin (1931).
• Serves as pastor of German congregations in London
(1931-1935).
Zingst 1935
• A seminary of the Confessing Church on
the Baltic Sea.
Finkenwalde 1935-1937
• The seminary was relocated from Zingst to
Finkenwalde in June 1935. It would be
closed by the Gestapo in 1937.
Influence of Zingst and
Finkenwalde
• Bonhoeffer’s experience in the life of the
seminary would shape this writing of Life
Together (1938) and Psalms: The Prayer
Book of the Bible (1940).
The Struggle Continues
• After Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer and his
seminarians serve congregations in
Pomerania.
• Bonhoeffer travels to America in the
summer of 1939.
• Returns to Germany and continues to be
involved in the church struggle against the
Nazis.
For an account of Lutheran resistance to
National Socialism, see the new book by
Lowell Green
Imprisonment
• Bonhoeffer in arrested on April 5, 1943
and incarcerated at the Tegel Prison in
Berlin.
Executed
• Executed on April 9, 1945 at Flossenbürg.
Meditating on the Word by Dietrich
Bonhoeffer
In a 1936 letter to his brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, a layman
whose theology was in line with the liberalism of Adolph von
Harnack, Bonhoeffer wrote: “Any other place outside the Bible has
become too uncertain for me. I fear that I will only encounter some
divine double of myself there. Does this somehow help you to
understand why I am prepared for a sacrificium intellectus – just in
these matters, and only in these matters, with respect to the one,
true God! And who does not bring to some passages his sacrifice of
the intellect, in the confession that he does not yet understand this
or that passage of Scripture, but is certain that even they will be
revealed one day as God’s own Word? I would rather make that
confession than try to say according to my own opinion: this is
divine, that is human” (Meditating on the Word, 37)
Commenting on Psalm 119,
Bonhoeffer writes:
“Where the Word is at home with me, I am
able to find my way in a strange land – to
find what is right where there is injustice, a
place to stand where there is uncertainty,
strength for my work, and patience in time
of sorrow” (Meditating on the Word,129)
Advent Themes in Bonhoeffer’s Preaching
• Some of Bonhoeffer’s most poignant preaching comes
on the last Sundays of the Church Year and in Advent.
• Eschatological focus on perishing of sinful humanity in
the light of God’s eternity.
• Judgment and hope.
• The cross is decisive in this preaching, not apocalyptic
speculation: “the end time in the Bible is the whole of
time and every day between the death of Christ and the
last judgment” (Testament to Freedom, 201-202)
Advent Themes-Cont
• Bonhoeffer’s preaching issues a call to repentance and
life in the face of death.
• In a sermon preached on November 19, 1933 in London
Bonhoeffer speaks of God letting us know what the last
judgment is, “so that we might perceive what life is. God
lets it be known today so that we may all the more
passionately, all the more eagerly, seize the promise of
grace, so that we might recognize that we do not stand
before God in our own strength, lest we should perish
before God; that in spite of everything God does not
desire our death, but rather our life” (A Testament to
Freedom, 218)
Advent Themes-Cont
• Bonhoeffer delighted in Advent, perhaps
because so much of his life seemed to be spent
in waiting.
• Bonhoeffer’s Advent preaching reflects the
penitential character of the season but it is
repentance fulfilled in Christ who comes to
rescue sinners.
Sermon on Advent IV
(December 21,1930) in Havana, Cuba
on Deuteronomy 32:48-52
(DBW 10:585-589)
Advent IV Sermon
• The seriousness of Advent.
• Moses is a figure of Advent for he lives with
unfulfilled hope; he is only given a glimpse of the
promised land.
• “Why must Moses die in view of the promise?”
(DBW 10:586)
• At Christmas, God’s promise is fulfilled and we
will not die but live.
• Advent calls us to wait on this fulfillment and so
inherit eternal life.
Advent IV Sermon-cont
• The message of Advent becomes a “disturbing
penitential sermon for us” (DBW 10:588) and
this is as it must be. Before Jesus stands John
the Baptist, before Christmas stands Advent. It is
only through repentance that we come to the
fulfillment of Christmas.
• Now we live by the promise in the midst of our
misery as we wait for the good news a heaven
torn open to give us God’s own Son wrapped in
our humanity.
• Also see Bonhoeffer’s poem from September
1944, “The Death of Moses” in DBW 8:531-541.
A Sermon on Revelation 3:20
(“Behold I stand at the door and knock”)
on the First Sunday in Advent 1928
(DBW, 10:542-546)
Sermon on Advent I 1928
• “Celebrating Advent means meaning able to
wait” (DBW 10:542)
• Waiting and fulfillment go together: “Those
unfamiliar with the bitter bliss of waiting, of doing
without while maintaining hope, will never
experience the full blessing of fulfillment” (DBW
10:542)
• Images of waiting: courtship, farming
• Enemies of waiting: self-satisfaction, greed
Sermon on Advent I 1928-cont
• “Only people who carry a certain restlessness
around with them can wait, and people who look
up reverently to the One who is great in the
world. Hence only those whose souls give them
no peace are able to celebrate Advent, who feel
poor and incomplete and who sense something
of the greatness of what is coming, before which
one can only bow in humble timidity, in
anticipation till God inclines toward us – the Holy
One, God in the child in the manger” (DBW
10:542)
Sermon on Advent I 1928 (cont.)
• Then Bonhoeffer makes a turn in the
sermon the coming of Christ to save.
• In our world of evil and death, Advent
brings homesickness….who can offer
redemption?
Sermon on Advent 1928 Cont
• “A groan wrests itself from our breast, ‘Come,
God, Lord Jesus Christ, come into our world,
into our homelessness, into our sin, into our
death, come you yourself, and share with us, be
a human being as we are and conquer for
us….Come along into my death, into my
sufferings and struggles, and make me holy and
pure despite this evil, despite death” (DBW
10:543).
• This cry is answered with the promise that Jesus
stands at the door and knocks.
Sermon on Advent 1928 cont
• The voice of Jesus is soft and easily drowned
out by the loud and noisy “market barkers and
advertisers” who “extol their rotten wares.”
• Jesus’ coming brings both terror and joy.
• We become dulled to the message of the Lord’s
coming.
• Christ comes now and He summons us in and
through the lives of the neighbor.
Sermon on Advent I 1928 cont
“Christ walks the earth as long as there are
people, as your neighbor, as the person through
whom God summons you, addresses you, make
claims on you. That is the most serious and
most blessed part of the Advent message. Christ
is at the door; he lives in the form of those
around us. Will you close the door or open it for
him?” (DBW 10:545)
Sermon on Advent I 1928 cont
• All of our Advents are permeated by a yearning
for the final Advent with the promise, “See, I am
making all things new” (Rev. 21:5)
• “The time of Advent is a time of waiting, though
our entire life is a time of Advent, a time of
waiting for that final time when a new heaven
and a new earth will emerge….Yes, come soon,
Lord Jesus. Amen” (DBW 10:546)
Sermon on Luke 21:28
(DBW 13:337-341)
preached on December 3, 1933
(Advent I) in London
Advent I Sermon
• Using a recent mining accident to lead into the
sermon, Bonhoeffer speaks of a trapped miner
jumping with excitement and anticipation as he
hears the hammer blows of the rescue party.
• We are trapped, imprisoned when the Savior
draws near to us.
• The word of Advent will not be heard by those
who are “well-satisfied with their full stomachs”
(DBW 13:339) but by those who are hungry and
thirsty.
Advent I Sermon -cont
• Advent announces a coming redemption
whether we know it or not. Do you want it?
• “That such a genuine Advent produces
something quite different from a fearful, petty,
downtrodden, weak sort of Christianity, such as
we often see, and which tempts us to be scornful
of Christianity itself, that is made clear by two
powerful challenges that introduce our text. Look
up, lift your heads! Advent makes people
human, new human beings. We, too, can
become new human beings at Advent time”
(DBW 13:340).
Advent I Sermon-cont
• “Look up, you there who staring emptily down at
earth” (DBW 13:341). This is a word for those
whose eyes have been turn away from heaven
only to weep at that which the world has
mercilessly taken from them.
• Lift up your heads bowed down in defeat and
humiliation.
• Heaven is really bending near earth! Rescue is
near….God is coming to us where we live.
Sermon on Luke 1:46-55 (Advent III)
preached in London
on December 17, 1933
(DBW 13:342-347)
Advent III Sermon
• Bonhoeffer sees Mary’s song as oldest Advent
hymn.
• Mary knows better than anyone else what it
means to wait for Christ’s coming: “In her own
body she is experiencing the wonderful ways of
God with humankind: that God does not arrange
matters to suit our opinions and views, does not
follow the path that humans would like to
prescribe. God’s path is free and original beyond
our ability to understand or to prove” (DBW
13:343)
Advent III Sermon-cont
• “God in the midst of lowliness – that is the
revolutionary, passionate word of Advent” (DBW
13:343). God chooses the wife of “a working
man” to become the mother of God.
• God is not ashamed of human lowliness. “What
people say is lost, God says is found” (DBW
13:344).
• To call Mary blessed does not mean to built
altars to her but to join with her in saying, “Let it
be to me according to your word” (DBW 13:344)
Advent III Sermon-cont
• When God comes into the world in the flesh at
Bethlehem, there is a complete reversal of all things on
this earth (DBW 13:345).
• The throne of God is now set “in humanity’s deepest
abyss, in the manger” (DBW 13:345).
• The manger and cross are the places that strike terror to
the great and powerful of the world. “No one who holds
power dares to come near the manger; King Herod did
not dare. For here thrones begin to sway, the powerful
fall down, and those who are rich come to naught,
because God is here with the lowly” (DBW 13:346)
Other Items from Bonhoeffer
• Sermon on Isaiah 9:6-7 for Christmas
Day, 1940 (DBW 16:611-617)
• “Liturgy for a Seminar Worship
Service” –Christmas Celebration in
Berlin on December 20, 1932 (DBW
12:448-454)
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Concordia Theological Seminary