Many years ago, my wife and I visited the site of the Dachau Concentration Camp, about 10 miles to the northwest of Munich. This abandoned munitions factory in a quiet medieval town was reconfigured into a place of death and suffering. The camp saw nearly 200,000 pass through its gates; Jews, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, etc. We are told that 31,951 were reported killed, but it is believed that many more deaths went unreported.
The camp was liberated by US forces on 29 April, 1945. It was used for holding SS troops awaiting trial and was the actual site of the Dachau war crimes trials. After 1948 it was used to hold ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern Europe awaiting resettlement, and used by US troops during the occupation. It was closed in 1960 and made into a museum which exists so the world does not forget the horrors of war, injustice, and unbridled racism.
How could Dachau ever be considered a place of hope? It happened on Christmas Eve 1944. The place was a cold and dark bunk room where a German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller, himself a prisoner was preaching a Christmas Eve sermon to the skeleton-like figures huddled around him. This is what he said:
God, the eternally wealthy and almighty God, enters into the most extreme human poverty imaginable. No man is so weak and helpless that God does not come to him in Jesus Christ, right in the midst of our human need; no man is so forsaken and homeless in this world that God does not seek him, in the midst of our human distress…This is what is so singularly peculiar in the Christian message of salvation, which tells us, ‘You need not go to search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the man who, as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in a manger. All your need is so far from being alien to him that on the contrary he gave himself freely to bear it with you.’ Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, ‘Thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.’
This is the significance of Christmas; that God became flesh and dwelt among us. The infinite, eternal God became one of us and fully entered into our human situation so that he might redeem us. I think we still have this mythological notion that if we are facing difficulties, feeling depressed, and experiencing life’s unfairness then our Christmas will be ruined. On the contrary, it is as we do experience such things that we will have a clearer understanding of the true nature of the incarnation; that the God of the Stars has become the God of the brokenhearted.
This is the truth of the incarnation: God stooped so low in Jesus that no one is excluded from his grasp. No, not even you.