Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who directed an underground seminary in Germany, an intentional Christian community that practised a new form of monasticism. The seminary was closed down in 1937 by the Gestapo and more than two dozen of its students were arrested. Bonhoeffer, too, was arrested in 1943 and executed in 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II. Earlier, while still at liberty, he wrote circular letters to his students encouraging them to pursue and maintain fellowship with one another in any and every way possible; just as we also need to do in the challenges of the pandemic.
In his circular letter sent at Christmas in 1939 Bonhoeffer wrote this about the nativity:
‘The body of Jesus Christ is our flesh. He bears our flesh. Therefore, where Jesus Christ is, there we are, whether we know it or not; that is true because of the incarnation. What happens to Jesus Christ, happens to us. It really is all our “poor flesh and blood” which lies there in the crib; it is our flesh which dies with him on the cross and is buried with him. He took human nature so that we might be eternally with him. Where the body of Jesus Christ is, there we are; indeed, we are his body. So the Christmas message for all … runs: You are accepted. God has not despised you, but he bears in his body all your flesh and blood. Look at the cradle! In the body of the little child, in the incarnate son of God, your flesh, all your distress, anxiety, temptation, indeed all your sin, is borne, forgiven and healed.’
That is the great insight of Bonhoeffer’s letters; where Jesus Christ is, there we are, whether we know it or not; what happens to Jesus Christ, happens to us. He became a human being like us, so that we would become divine. He came to us so that we would come to him. He took human nature so that we might be eternally with him. Where the body of Jesus Christ is, there we are; indeed, we are his body. Like new parents seeing their new-born child for the first time and recognising their features in their child, so, when we look in the manger, we see ourselves looking back at us. I pray that that might be your experience this Christmas.