Sermon: Frank Moritz-Jauk
1st Advent SONG „The Night Has Passed.“
Dear congregation, today we celebrate the first Advent. And of course one can reproach all pastors, priests, deacons and others in the proclamation that at this time, at the beginning of Advent, more or less everyone will say or preach the same thing.
That may be so.
And of course I asked myself during my preparation whether this must always be the case. Whether it’s not boring. Whether one could not say something new about Advent or Christmas. May be one could say something new about it. May even be that I could come up with something new.
But the longer I thought about it, the more I felt that for me – at least for this Advent season – that this is not my intention.
In other words, it’s not the most important thing to say or emphasize something new, but instead, how I implement the message of Advent.
It may be a repetition every year, but every year it is about how I experience Advent and how I prepare for a very fundamental and all-changing event that we call Christmas. Christmas, yes, it has become so much in our time, in our culture, in the meaning it has for people – with or without a relationship to God.
Today I would like to go into the meanings that it has and can have for us, as people seeking God, as people experiencing God, as people with hope.
And today I will hardly orient myself on the biblical text. Instead, I will go into the poetic and profoundly theological formulations of Jochen Klepper, who wrote five remarkable verses of a very well-known song. The song we have just sung „Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen.“
For me it is one of the most beautiful and touching Advent songs, even though it is in minor. This key always makes it seem a little sad and melancholic, but it has a power, depth and beauty I much appreciate, and today want to emphasize, explore .
The first motif Klepper uses is the ‚end of the night and the approach of the day.‘ The Letter to the Romans also had the same theme: „The night is coming to an end, the day is about to dawn.“ Two things are addressed here: On the one hand the Night, which stands as a symbol for all misery, all suffering, all oppression and inconvenience, and on the other hand the Day, which symbolizes, so to speak, the light at the end of the tunnel. What particularly appeals to me about this verse is the compassion that is expressed here. Someone is crying here. That means that this person does care how the world is or what injustice we face every day and there is real compassion. That makes a big difference to me. Because I can also be powerless in the face of what is happening in this world. OR resigned – I can’t do anything anyway – those up there do everything as they want anyway – buzzword ‚political disenchantment‘ or indifferent – I don’t care what the world is like – I do my own thing anyway. Let everyone see how they can manage with this world. But this first verse doesn’t say that! It says, I am suffering, I am crying and I am longing for the next day.
The second verse is sealed theology: God Himself, for only the angels serve Him, opens up and becomes a child. A child, a real person. And this child did not become man to rule, but to serve. The child becomes a servant. Here we Christians express something that distinguishes us from many religions in this world: A God who serves and meets us human beings. To surrender himself as a human being to human beings.
If it were further said that God appears as atonement for his own right, then I would today, despite all the beauty of the verse and respect for the overall composition of the song, quietly but definitely want to contradict it. I am convinced that Jesus is not a sin- offering in the sense of the Old Testament, which is necessary for the restoration of fellowship with God. God is not offended or demands reparation, as expressed in the teachings on satisfaction by Canterbury around the year 1000 AD. When I hear atonement and legal claims, these bells begin ringing.
This may be too much of an interpretation and perhaps Jochen Klepper meant it differently, but I still mean quietly and definitely, quite quietly and definitely, I no longer believe that today: Man must be reconciled, not God.
This brings me to the third verse and this verse now brings the miracle of Christmas into connection with God’s universal, cosmic saving action. That means no more and no less than that God has always intended to free us in Jesus and to make us free through Jesus. „You shall find salvation there, for all times, from the beginning to the end since your iniquity came.“ And I believe that one can interpret this last part, either very Catholic: as original sin, but also very modern: Since you, since I, since we first noticed in our life that we were guilty – that we were not living according to the will of God – since this first recognition, God has already prepared a solution. God has chosen someone who has allied himself with us and that is the child in the manger, that is Jesus.
And the fourth verse now speaks of the fact that from this point on everything has changed. Since this event, nothing is really as it was before. There will probably still be suffering in this world: „Many nights will still fall on human suffering and guilt“ but with all human beings, and therefore also with us „the star of God’s grace now wanders“. In our Christian confessions we speak of the fact that the power of sin was broken by Jesus. Sin no longer has power over us, death has been defeated, there is a hope that has not been taken away since Jesus‘ death and resurrection. We have been saved and this can no longer be reversed.
I have never met, spoken or read about anyone who has formulated this better than Karl Rahner. Rahner writes: „Your true future is my present, which began today and will never again become the past. That is why it is more realistic for you to adhere to my optimism, which is not utopia, but the reality of God, the whole reality of God, which I – the incomprehensible miracle of my almighty love – have placed intact and completely in the cold stable of your world.“
Actually, one should stop talking now. What can one say, after this description?
And yet I don’t want to withhold the fifth verse from you, because here once again the basic attitude of the whole song is summed up: It’s about hope.
A hope that becomes visible in this world because God creates it. A hope that pervades the night of this world and that appears as a bright light, in the light of which nothing is as it was before. A hope that believes in the overcoming of all suffering and misery and that has a goal in mind with judgment. What becomes clear here again in the last verse of the song is an image of God that we normally, or far too often, do not associate with the Last Judgement: „As if he wanted to reward it, he judges the world“.
As if he wanted to reward, so God judges the world, you first have to let that melt in your mouth. Or sing and hear many, many times, perhaps such a message can then reach our soul.
It seems to me that this incredibly sensitive song and Rahner’s inimitable sentences can perhaps give Advent back the best and most original meaning that we so often seek in these turbulent times: That the Day is Not Far Away.
Christmas Day, on which God makes true all that this song describes and what Rahner puts into words.
But to understand this, to make it swell in us, to give this message a chance to reach our soul – it takes time.
The Advent time.