Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent Reflection: Finding Hitler in the Manger

Adolf Hitler is so iconic for evil that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to consider him as a mere human being.  I try but do not, I suspect, get close.  Why would this be an exercise undertaken during Advent?

I am reading an Advent devotional book composed of writings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer entitled God is in the Manger .

Much of the writing is taken from correspondence during his imprisonment, which ended in his execution upon orders from Hitler just weeks before the end of the war, at a time when it was obvious that the end was imminent and that his ‘side’ would lose.

What goes on in the human mind that, upon realizing his own end draws near, insists on taking others with him?  I want to say that I cannot understand it, but the truth is that I can.

Hitler’s legacy is writ large upon the pages of history, but many of us have our own moments of selfish cruelty, don’t we?  The moments when, realizing the loss of our own hopes and dreams, we lash out at others: aiming, consciously or unconsciously, at breaking their dreams, as if our own brokenness insists that everything and everyone else be broken too.  The moments recorded only upon the hearts of those we damage.

It is the revenge impulse of the angry child, deprived of its toy, that breaks Mama’s prized vase.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a neon sign blazed from our foreheads when such moments occur:

Warning!  Danger!  Seeming adult is an angry child today!  Approach at your own risk!

For my own part, I regret the vases I’ve broken over the years.

I never thought I’d look to the manger and find Hitler there.  But Bonhoeffer was right: it is not our Hitler selves who inhabit the manger; it is God.  And this Advent, that’s where I want to be too: helpless, hopeful, and doing no harm.

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