Christmas Amid the Rubble

I’ve recently realized that the last thing I put on this blog was a melancholy reflection on Christmas. Now, I’d like to put before you this Advent a painting by Albrecht Altdorfer:

Sitting in prison on the first Sunday of Advent 1943, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

November 28, 1943

My dear Parents,

Although no one has any idea whether and how letters are presently being handled, I nevertheless want to write to you on this afternoon of the first Sunday in Advent. The Altdorfer nativity scene, in which one sees the holy family with the manger amid the rubble of a collapsed house—just how did he come to portray this in such a way, flying in the face of all tradition, four hundred years ago?—is particularly timely. Even here one can and ought to celebrate Christmas, he perhaps wanted to say; in any case, this is what he says to us.

We could see this painting, and the state of the world at any given time, in two ways. The first is to look at how much has collapsed, to lament what is gone. And that is a legitimate way to look at the world, especially for someone in Bonhoeffer’s position. But the second is to focus on how the birth of Jesus came in wrecked circumstances. When the rubble reminds us that things aren’t the way they used to be, or the way they ought to be, the presence of the holy family reminds us that God has visited this place, is in it even now, and is renewing it. And we will see him renewing, renewing, renewing, if we look for him. Lord, give us eyes to see.

See you soon.


3 thoughts on “Christmas Amid the Rubble

  1. I came to this site by way of your well-constructed Amazon book reviews. Thank you for mention of Albrecht Altdorfer (prompting me to read more about him), his nativity painting (which allowed me to envision a similar scene set in the ruins of Third Presbyterian on Ninth and Potter, Chester, PA) and mention of Bonhoeffer (who our pastor mentioned in his New Year’s Day 2023 sermon). All arranged themselves quite nicely within my mind, beauty amidst the chaos.

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