For Advent, I have been reading Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings, 1941-1944, by Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. Father Delp was executed on February 2, 1945, in Plötzensee prison, only three months before the Nazi capitulation on May 7, 1945. He had been imprisoned for opposing the Third Reich.
His first published writing about Advent was a play, “The Eternal Advent,” written in 1933 for the students at Stella Matutina School in Feldkirch, Austria—a Jesuit boarding school where he was assigned to work as prefect. The intended performers were children, a fact that is very sad but fitting, perhaps, in light of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut during Advent 2012.
Despite the seemingly senseless loss of Fr. Delp’s own life, and despite the loss of life in the play (soldiers, coal miners, and prophetically, a priest), Fr. Delp’s theme was—and is—hope. Granted, it is not a blind hope; an easily maintained hope. As the dying priest in the play says, “My friends, believe it, we have to suffer a lot and hang on. Only then is it Christmas.”
What, then, is the eternal Advent hope for which we are to wait? Just this: that God will come. That He will come, as He did in Bethlehem, but that He also will come in the most difficult times of our lives. In Scene 1 of the play, a group of despair over their comrades and even their enemy’s loss of life:
All of them—on both sides—they’re all just stretching their hands out toward happiness. They all just want to be happy and content. They all stretch out their hands. But nobody reaches a hand out to meet them. Nobody fills their empty hands with happiness and peace.
Their battalion then comes under attack. The speaker and all with him are killed. But at the end of the scene, after some time, a dead soldier slowly rises and speaks:
Dead soldiers, and you who live because they died here, all of you who . . . stretch your hands out toward happiness: one day God’s hand will touch you! One day His hand will come over you, stroke your hot foreheads, heal your bleeding wounds, fill your empty hands.
All of you who secretly stretched out your hands toward happiness: someday, Someone will come and take your hand!
This is the Advent hope in tough times—and for all time.