December 25, 2016

We celebrate a very special Christmas in Berlin this year: the terror attack on the Christmas market confronted us here in Berlin with something that is everyday life elsewhere in the world. Extremists kill innocent people, bring death to whole cities, destroy certainties about how human beings can live together. And they make love of neighbor, they make charity look like helpless weakness – weakness that can be exploited. The message of Christmas: “Peace be on earth” – in the eyes of extremists this makes no sense. They want the contrary of peace – they want terror – and be it in the name of religion. So, what to preach on this Christmas morning? About the night that appears in “holy night” – we are all living experiences of “night, darkness” when we see our world. I read a very touching text written by the protestant bishop of Berlin. He quotes Jürgen Moltmann, a well know protestant theologian. Moltmann spoke about the “things ahead of us”. And he uses two terms for the things ahead of us: “future” and “advent”. Future – this is what we can calculate, our predictions, prognoses, extrapolated experiences. We know how many people there will be on this planet in 30 years, we know how many skilled workers a country needs to survive, we know the consequences of the international migrations of today. This we know – and we may fear it, we may become depressed because of this future that threatens us. But when it comes to things to come, Moltmann also speaks of “Advent”. Advent is the time ahead we cannot plan, the time ahead that is given to us as a gift. A gift that may bring changes, surprises, a gift that may bring dead branches of a tree to life. Christmas always is preceded by Advent. Advent is this attitude of expecting to be surprised. Isn’t it a surprise that in the manger shepherds and kings meet. Social underdogs like the shepherds meet the magi with their gifts. What unites them? What is common to them? It is the fact that they are amazed about this child. From this new born a power emanates that the shepherds and the magi call “divine” although this new born child is lying there defenseless. From this new born child shines forth the right of every human being to live a life in dignity. From this new born child shines forth the dignity of every human being no matter where he or she is born, if he or she is rich or poor, black or white… God becomes one of us so that we be able to see what hope every human life carries. So, this is the message of Christmas for me: Humanity is promised to all. Practiced humanity, Menschlichkeit, Mitmenschlichkeit…. This “future” is not yet at hand – we know this when we watch TV, read the newspapers or listen to victims of war and violence and terrorism…. But this “future” is not impossible if together we fight for it, if together we await it actively, if together we work for it with everything we can, if together we prepare this future. Christmas is not a sort of cultural program of our Christian occident. Christmas is not a feast where we forget the world around us. A feast where we see the world in an idyllic way. No, we need both: we need to know the future with all the available facts and knowledge and science, but we also need this trust in the Advent of God, trust in the things to come that are a gift of God. Christmas confronts our own personal and social calculations about our future with God’s promises. This message is not “post-truth” (post-faktisch as we say in German) – no, it is rather pre-truth. This message speaks of trust in the things to come. If we are open to see the image of God in every human being, then we shall be able to find ways to peace we had never dreamed of before. (Cf

Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ

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