Does anyone else have a miserable Christmas?

“Don't be afraid!” Christmas in three words

“Fear”, that was the most searched word this year. In a Bible app of all places. The app manufacturer has now announced this in a message. [1] "Fear" - as a search term in the Bible. A million times.

But it was more about the Bible's answers to fear. And the seekers actually found what they were looking for. As a top result, this Bible verse from the book of the prophets Isaiah was accessed the most:

“Do not be afraid, for I will help you; do not be afraid because I am your god! I make you strong, I help you, with my victorious hand I protect you! "[2]

That feels good. Looking for an answer to fear - and then finding a sentence like that. That there is someone who makes you strong, helps, protects. Whether one is a believer or not: There is a great longing for protection, courage and strength, especially in this strange year - between corona and catastrophes, strokes of fate and bad worries.

2020: a year of fears

2020 was a year in which many faced very different fears. And I felt the question of how to deal with fear firsthand. I work in Trier.

A few days ago a gunman raced through the pedestrian zone in his car; there were dead and many injured; many are in fear and terror.

Those who had to witness the act, those who have lost relatives and friends - and those who, like me, are walking through the pedestrian zone these days and seeing thousands and thousands of lights: candles that are set up along the route, where people like this have experienced incredible suffering.

2020: a year of hope

The Advent lighting now consists of grave lights. One can get scared. And yet the lights there are also a sign that it will not stay dark. Despite all the sadness and dismay, they are still lights of hope.

The candles are an answer to fear; Signs of remembrance and solidarity. Even in this Advent in the midst of the pandemic, we can make good use of the lights of hope: in the windows, in the apartments. There is the confident longing that somehow everything will get better again.

"All the darkness in the world is not enough to extinguish the light of a single, small candle."

That's what a Chinese proverb says. It could also be a Christian calendar saying. An Advent saying. Because especially in Advent the lights of the Advent wreath and the many fairy lights want to defy the darkness - on the way to the "Festival of Light", on the way to Christmas.

Christmas is not an idyll

I can see that psychologically, as a longing for light and warmth in the dark, cold season. Or answer from the Christian faith: Christmas has a reason: a message with “hand and foot” - in the truest sense of the word: I see the child in the manger - God becomes a person, that is celebrated at Christmas.

But that's not the sweet romance with tinsel and shine of lights, Cardinal Walter Kasper said:

“What we celebrate at Christmas is anything but an idyll. As is well known, the crib, which we have long since brought into our warm rooms, was in the stable. There was no one willing to give the pregnant woman and the young man from Nazareth in Galilee decent accommodation. As soon as the child was born, the young family had to flee because Herod, the power-obsessed ruler, sought after the life of the child Jesus. They were refugees, politically persecuted ... "[3]

That doesn't look like cheap, pious Christmas romance. The beginning is downright gloomy and pathetic - to God’s mercy - and that’s exactly Christmas: God has mercy on wretchedness, on darkness, he does not leave us alone.

He doesn't just wipe away the suffering. But he even becomes a person himself, takes part in everything that can depress people - up to death and far beyond. With Christmas, so to speak, the sky opens up for us humans. And yet:

"It will be Christmas when it is very dark."

Take Christmas seriously in its helplessness

“It will be Christmas when it is really dark.” That is what it once said on a Christmas greeting that I received. And it has something. Only where it is dark can it become light.

And Christmas means: Christ, the light of the world: God himself comes into darkness, consciously into darkness. Because then the dark is not bleak and endless, then God's work becomes visible. And that has "off-effects" - until today.

If I take Christmas seriously today, the child, the wretchedness, the need in the stable and the subsequent escape, then I have to take the need seriously today. That is not bleak either. Then I am not at the mercy of her helplessly.

If I let the child in the nursery, who has experienced hardship and flight and suffering, into my house, I cannot leave the refugees alone with us today, on Lesbos, in Moria, on the EU's external borders, in the Mediterranean drown.

When I see the helpless child in the manger, I cannot hide the endless suffering of abused and abused children by clerics and others in the Church. When I sing about the “Holy Family” with all its problems, I must not forget the often difficult realities of life in families today. Otherwise Christmas would be hollow.

A divine and human festival

Christmas is quite grounded in the good sense of the word, as an often quoted sentence by the former Bishop of Mainz, Cardinal Karl Lehmann:

"Christmas reveals the temperatures when people interact with one another."

Christmas is all too human and almost divine in one: Precisely because it begins in darkness, because God is not too good for the stable and the misery and need; precisely because he becomes a person with everything that goes with it and - quite literally - is so shabby - that is why Christmas is a "courage-give-up celebration". A "nonetheless feast".

A “just because festival” in all seeming contradictions. In a Christmas hymn, the refrain reads:

“Because God appeared in the dead of night - our night cannot be sad.
Because God appeared in the dead of night - our night cannot be endless. "[4]

“Don't be afraid” - but how?

It's dark - but it doesn't stay dark. It's night, but the new day begins in the middle of the night. We experience grief and fear, but the Christmas message comes and is clear: “Do not be afraid! Don't be afraid! ”This occurs a few hundred times in the Bible in different variations, especially in the Christmas message:

“The angel said to them: Do not be afraid, for, behold, I proclaim to you a great joy that will be shared with all the people. Today the Savior is born to you in the city of David; he is the Christ, the Lord. And that should serve as a sign: You will find a child, wrapped in diapers, lying in a crib. "[5]

I know that sounds pious - and easier said than done! And I wonder how naive this Christmassy

"Rejoice - do not be afraid"

ringing in the ears of those who have nothing to do with the Bible and the Christian Christmas; how it sounds in the ears of those who feel left alone by the church: in the loneliness of the Corona time; or because of the criminals and cover-ups in their ranks.

I wonder how that “don't be afraid” sounds in the ears of those who are concerned about their jobs, their health; in the ears of those who miss and mourn relatives or friends who can no longer experience Christmas; People who worry about what cannot be washed away with a pat on the back or three simple words.

Christmas is: God is with us

Yes, the “do not be afraid - do not be afraid!” Is ultimately a confidence from faith. It is an answer that I honestly can only give for myself - and only each and every one for themselves. It is not a magic formula for everything and everyone.

“Do not be afraid!”: This is only a short answer, but it has a long history in mankind. I like to stick to those for whom this was not just a pious phrase, but who actually drew courage to live from the Christmas message.

Even in the most existential needs. I am thinking, for example, of a Father Alfred Delp, who was on Nazi death row at Christmas 1944, with the impending murder in mind. And who could then write such sentences on his last Christmas as:

"Let us thatDare to livebecause we're not alone tooLife have, but God lives it with us. "[6]

Trust life. Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! God is with us! This is christmas And that has its reason in the little child in the crib. Defenseless - and yet protected. This is how God becomes man. This is how God cares for people. More than humans could in all their failures.

Discover the potential of Christmas

Christmas has potential! And there is something that extends beyond the Christmas tree, turkey and tam-tam as a longing and also withstands the loneliness of the corona contact restrictions.

A longing that there is someone who won't leave me alone when I don't know what to do in the confusion of the world, especially in this Corona time.

Approachable - well; with a human face - alive - divine. So I hear the sentences of Father Delp from death row as a confident hope even in difficult and difficult times, because for me they rewrite the Christmas message: Let us trust life. Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!

Maybe Christmas this year is a little quieter than usual, contemplative, if not cozy. Maybe it's a little more defiant this year; maybe it's a little more helpless, maybe it's a little more wistful this year - this Christmas in three words:

"Do not be afraid!"

Very specific Christmas wishes come to mind - especially because of the news of the last few weeks, I don't want to be guided by the worry that I always come up short and that everyone would have conspired against me!

Fear is not everything

I don't want to be scared of populists who benefit from my fear because they want to have my opinion under control! I don't want to be convinced that I can't do anything at this time, that I am at the mercy of the game of power and the mighty. Or evil, hell on earth.

Fear has its place, cannot be wiped away - not even with pious words. But it is not everything. She does not determine life, does not have the last word. The living light of confidence is stronger. Then it will be beyond all debates about church services or not really Christmas - not just in the calendar.

A popular song and prayer these days comes from the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was also a Christian resistance fighter against the dark regime of the Nazis.

What Bonhoeffer wrote there is for me a “prayer against fear”, a prayer of encouragement that fits into this Advent and Christmas season after a strange year of distance. It's a good wish, a blessing; and it opens the hopeful and confident perspective for the coming year:

“Let the candles burn warmly and quietly today that you brought into our darkness. Bring us together again if it can be - we know it, your light shines in the night. Wonderfully safe from good powers, we confidently await what may come. God is with us in the evening and in the morning, and most certainly every new day. " [7]

Martin Korden has the editorial responsibility.


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[1] Message

[2] Isaiah 41:10 after the translation "Good news for all".

[3] Cf.. Kasper, keep your secret. Meditations for Advent and Christmas, Bibelwerk Stuttgart 2015.

[4] Cf. Song No. 772 in the Praise of God of the Diocese of Mainz.

[5] Lk 2,11f. - Standard translation 2016.

[6] Alfred Delp SJ, Vigil of Christmas, in: With hands tied. Records from the prison, Freiburg i.Br. 2007, page 88.

[7] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Von guten Mächten, in his letter to Maria von Wedemeyer from the basement prison of the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin, December 19, 1944. First published in 1951 in: Eberhard Bethge (ed.), Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Resistance and resignation. Letters and notes from prison.