"And Simeon blessed them and said, '...the child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed, and a sword will pierce your own soul...'" (Luke 2:34,35) Thus did Simeon foretell something of the cost that would be paid for the light to come into the world.
Every year I'm privileged to teach in Europe for two weeks right at the beginning of the Advent season, and I've made it a bit of a hobby to learn some history of the culture where I'm teaching. Southern Bavaria has a hero of faith and politics named Sophie Scholl, who was made famous in America as well because of the movie about her life that was released a short time ago. Having seen the movie, I'd purchased a book about her life, and have been reading it on trains as I travel between schools for teaching. Sophie and her White Rose group distributed leaflets during WWII calling for the defeat of Hitler and inciting the German people to resistance. Their writings resulted in their execution, Sophie being beheaded at the age of 21.
Sophie was from Ulm, and I'm in the Ulm train station, reading about this calling that came upon she and her brother, this sense that silence was impossible in times such as theirs. Young people who loved the life of the mind, the arts, and poetry, they insisted that their faith move out of their private interior world and into the arena. They chose to use the gifts of means and intellect God had given them to stand up for the oppressed and marginalized. The leaflets Sophie and her friends wrote and distributed eventually found their way to America, where they were printed and dropped by allied aircraft as a means of exposing the darkness, calling Germans to courage, and imparting hope. A few German students speak truth, pay for it with their blood, and it results in hope spilling onto one of darkest pages of history.
You can learn most of that by just watching the movie, but if you read the book, you'll find that Sophie and her young friends weren't alone. Behind the curtain there were several other characters, people like Carl Muth, editor of a theological journal that had been banned from publication by the Nazis. Muth lived alone in a tiny house, flooded with banned books. He'd work his garden and write articles that would never be published, and somehow the Scholl children, Sophis and Hans found their way to this man's house. He became a mentor to both of them, and was instrumental (along with their parents) in shaping their thoughts and giving them the courage to live out their convictions. We read of him, "Muth's magic was no only his philosophical sweep of knowledge or his deep hatred for National Socialism, but his youthful, almost playful sense of ethical and metaphysical exploration. He not only listened to young people, he wanted to live and share their experiences..."
What does all this have to do with advent? It's tempting at this time of year to simply think of the great gift we've received in Christ, the light of the world, the hope of history. If advent means the arrival of something important, there is no greater advent in all time than Jesus. But we do ourselves a disservice if we don't take then next step and realize that we're called to be the advent of Jesus today, in this time, this place.
That's why I like reading about Sophie as I train through Bavaria. These hills, and the beautiful, hospitable culture that resides here now, are shaped by thousands who became the presence of Christ at a critical time and place in history. Muth was a Gandalf figure for Hans and Sophie, light for their world. (and as I get older, I pray that's what I'll become too). Sophie and Hans then become light for others; for university students, families, artists, intellectuals, and eventually many thousands throughout Germany. After their death, their thoughts are dropped from the air by allied troops who discovered and printed the leaflets by the ton, and hope rains down on Germany.
But it cost Sophie, even as it cost Mary, Joseph, Paul, Peter... and surely you and I, should we follow Christ. People lulled to sleep by the endless pursuit of pleasure, or people whose lives are stuck in the quicksand of trivialities will never attain to this. We need to get in the arena of faith and commit to living fully, wholly, "doers of the word" is how I believe someone stated it. These were courageous, outdoor loving, pipe smoking, beer drinking, intellectually honest Christians. They lived well, and the main square in the University of Munich is now named after their movement.
I'm glad they 'showed up' when the hour demanded their best advent. I pray you and I will as well. Happy Advent.
A beautiful photo collage of Sophie is available here.
Still more is available about her life, an excellent summary, here.
Finally, if you're really bored, there are pictures from my teaching trip here.