Predigt zu Johannes 1,10-18; Zweiter Sonntag nach Weihnachten – 3. Januar 2016 (auf englisch)

 

von guten maechten

This season, this time between the years, is a special season. We just celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and, in fact, continue to do so for another couple of days. At the same time, we enter into a new year, and I bet for most of us, it feels like a fresh start, a new chapter with opportunities yet unknown.

And it is good that we end the year on such a high note. The celebration of Christmas instills joy and hope in us.  God comes among us and dwells with us. ‘The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light…’

A new year means hope. There is a new chance, I can change my ways, I have resolutions that will make this a better year. But at the same time we may feel unsettled and uncertain about a new year. What is it going to bring?  And with all the scary and disconcerting things going on in this country and in the world right now, there probably is a good reason to feel unsettled and uncertain.

Now John the Evangelist knew something about being uncertain and unsettled. At first, the followers of Jesus Christ worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem until its destruction in the year 70 A.D., and often in synagogues throughout the Roman Empire. In area with a Jewish population, Christians were just a Jewish splinter group, coexisting quite peacefully with other Jews. However, at some point during the first century A.D., in some regions a split happened, and those who were followers of Christ basically were thrown out of the synagogues. Maybe it happened because of an evangelistic zeal of people like John, who tried to convince the traditional Jewish folks that Jesus, indeed, is the Messiah. In any case, John’s gospel was written at a time when this quite painful split was happening. All of a sudden, the young Christian community was not welcome anymore, but homeless, and faced uncertainty.

And if you read John’s gospel, including its first chapter about the nature of Jesus Christ, it actually is a long prep talk to a disheartened community searching for its identity – and a home. And John reassures the congregation: you are on the right path, you are the chosen ones, for Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Look, Christ himself was not welcome, and yet he is one with the Father, he is God and the creator of all, and to those who believe in him, he will give grace upon grace. Times may be uncertain, but hang in there, don’t give up! Keep the faith! Trust in God’s presence and provision! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In December 1944, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was writing a poem for his loved ones, reflecting on his hopes for the New Year. He had been imprisoned in April 1943 by the NAZIs because he was a co-conspirator in an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler.  Since then, he had been kept in a prison cell in Berlin-Tegel. On New Year’s Eve 1944, Bonhoeffer had no idea what awaited him. Maybe he knew that, as a traitor, he eventually would be executed. In fact, he was hanged in April 1945, merely weeks before the German capitulation.

Bonhoeffer didn’t know what the New Year would bring for Germany and the world, and if the horrendous war and the destruction of life would continue. As he reflected on all the uncertainties of the year 1945, and his fears, he wrote his poem as an utmost statement of his trust in God’s presence and provision; and to reassure those he loved, those who feared for him and his life, that God is in charge and God cares, and that we should live in this confidence:

Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
Behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
So will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
Und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

A literal translation would be:

By good powers faithfully and quietly surrounded,

Wonderfully protected and comforted,

I want to live these days with you all,

And walk with you into the New Year.

I think his words are beautiful and heartbreaking. Bonhoeffer knew that he could not trust in the powers of this world, but that he could trust in the power of God, a good power, a power, which eventually would overcome evil and death. And that the best and wisest thing he could do under the bleak circumstances was to entrust himself to God’s good power, which surrounded him faithfully and quietly, even in the midst of darkness.

Let me read you more of his poem, in my own translation; I invite you to listen to it as you ponder Bonhoeffer’s situation, between the years of 1944 and 1945, and as you ponder your fears and expectations for the year 2016.

By good powers faithfully and quietly surrounded,

Wonderfully protected and comforted,

I want to live these days with you all,

And walk with you into the New Year.

 

Still that, which is past, wants to torment our hearts,

Still the burden of evil days is heavy upon us;

Oh, Lord, give our disturbed souls

The salvation for which you have created us.

 

Today let the candles flame warmly and brightly,

Which you have brought into our darkness,

Lead us together again, if it is possible,

We surely know, your light shines in the night.

 

When now the silence spreads deeply around us,

So let us hear that full sound

Of the world, which widens invisibly around us,

The song of praise of all your children.

 

By good powers wonderfully sheltered,

We await, full of comfort, whatever may come;

God is with us in the evening and in the morning,

And certainly on every new day.

My wish and prayer for all of you – for all of us – is, that we carry the hope and joy of Christmas and God’s word made flesh in this world and in and through us into all the days of the New Year. God came among us as the child in the manger and the man on the cross. God is with us still today, quietly and faithfully, and brings light into the darkness of our lives and the darkness of this world. And the darkness cannot overcome it, as long as we let this light so shine before others, and let the candles flame warmly and brightly.

In this sense: Have a happy and blessed New Year!

 

This post is also available in: Englisch