He started his sermon with the statement, “If it were left to us we would rather avoid the decisions which are forced upon us this day; if it were left to us, we would rather not be caught up in this struggle in the Church, which tears it apart; if it were left to us we would rather not insist on the rightness of our cause.”
Bonhoeffer goes on to say that it is God whose plans have forced the conflict on the Confessing Church.
And then he continues, “We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing is made easy for us. We are confronted with a decision and we are divided.”
Through the body of his sermon Bonhoeffer speaks of the church and where it is. He refers to it as the eternal church. He states:
Amidst the creaking and straining of the very foundations of its structure, amidst the cracks and destruction we hear everywhere the promise of an everlasting church; a church against which the powers of hell shall not prevail. A church which Christ has built upon a rock, and which he continues to build throughout all time.”Bonhoeffer asks where one finds this eternal Church. He sees it away from the crowds where Peter makes his confession. He looks at the weaknesses of Peter and other disciples, and yet since it is Christ’s church finds it to be the church of revelation rather than human opinions or ideas. The important thing is the foundation, Christ the Lord.
He advises the troubled Christians listening to his sermon that day:
His exhortation for the church is:
We shall confess—he shall build. We shall preach—he shall build. We shall pray to him—he shall build. We do not know his plan. We do not see whether he builds or tears down. It may be that the times, which by human standards are times of collapse, are for him the times of great building. It may be that the times, which by human standards are times of great success, are for him times to tear down. It is a great comfort that Christ gives to his church: confess, preach and bear witness to me. I alone will build as it pleases me. Don’t give me orders. Do your job—then you have done enough. You are all right. Don’t seek out reasons or opinions. Don’t keep judging. Don’t keep checking again and again to see if you are secure. Church, remain a church! You have only one Lord—Christ alone. By his grace alone you live. Christ builds.
And the power of hell shall not overcome you. Death is the legacy of all who live. Here it finds its end. On the hard foundations of the valley of death, the church is built, the church which confesses Christ as its life. It has eternal life precisely where death grasps at it. And it grasps at it because it has eternal life. The confessing church is
the everlasting church, because Christ protects it. Its eternal nature is not visible in this world. The waves go high over it and sometimes it appears to sink and be lost. But the victory lies with the church, because Christ the Lord is with it and he has conquered death. ‘Do not ask if the victory is yours, but believe in the victory and it is already yours.’
Whether the numbers are great or small, whether the members are lowly or high, whether they are weak or strong, if they confess Christ, the victory is theirs through all eternity: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12:32) ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20), The city of God remaineth!For this our day also. The City of God remaineth!
1. All quotes of Bonhoeffer taken from, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, Editor and Translator Edwin Robertson