Christmas Speech 2007

„Yes, I want to carry you till old age, and you shall say that I am merciful.“ Dear guests, dear colleagues! That was a choral by Neithard Bethke, with text by Jochen Klepper. The merciful time is upon us, announced by the touching music, which uplifts our spirits and keeps us from frailties – at least as long as we sit still and listen to the melodies. A contribution from our experienced soloist ensembles to wish you a peaceful Christmas festival.

Yes, I want to carry you. The choral focuses on Neithard Bethkes’ inner faith in God – as a sceptical scientist I can only wonder at such innocence and naivety. The music carries us. Apart from that this statement, put into the mouth of a fictitious God, is obviously an empty promise. This God is not merciful and does not carry you: he lets you fall – you can count only on this.

“I thank you great God” the poor souls who jumped out of the burning World Trade Center in New York must have cried – guided safely by eagle’s wings and landing on hard ground only then to be carried away. “God with us” was the motto of the German and the French grenadiers, who cut each other down in the trenches of Verdun in the advent period of 1916. “God bless America” – and the bombs fell on Dresden, Hiroshima and Bagdad. At the start of this advent a mother killed her five children, nearby to us. The Lübeck newspaper gave a detailed report – God be thanked for a sensational topic, welcome excitement for voyeurs and copycats, – and one of the most resourceful pastors of our time and a beneficiary of the quota for women said in Lübeck: “God is with us in despair and need, with his love and solidarity”. He didn’t show much solidarity with the two fathers and the five children as he brought the deed about or let it happen.

The boundless grace of the church does not end with such exhibitions; her apostles are waiting with a further generous promise: Whoever is supposedly abandoned by God or feels he has missed out in this vale of tears will be richly compensated after death, with help from the child from Bethlehem’s stable. So be joyful about every blow of fate and make your life holy from now on, pay church taxes, obey the state, sacrifice your best – your freedom – let yourself be exploited by parents, children and employers, be faithful to a dishonourable partner for life and miss out on thousands of things which are fun – celibacy comes first to my mind, the victims of which wish for an overflow of nectar and ambrosia in the distant future, some of them perhaps featuring a pretty altar boy. But truly, I say to you: every ascetic who abstains from the satisfaction of elementary needs down here to achieve a premier seat in heaven will decay to dust like all others, and no God needs to redeem the promises of the bishop speaker Ms Wartenberg-Potters. There is also nothing left of the terrorists from 11 September, and after their last flight they cannot have an even night of passion with one of the ten promised virgins.

How does the little child, Jesus of Nazareth, who was born two thousand years ago, help us – our salvation, a son given? Truly, this child also does not assist us. In his name there has been so much mischief done and so many crimes committed as never before in world history: think about the crusades, the inquisition, the thirty years war and many other wars, the missionaries and slave trade in Africa, the burning of so many voluptuous blondes at the stake, and with good reason, the ban on basic scientific research through many ages. People steered medical history backwards, Christianity became the motor of evil, the “force that always wants good, and only achieves evil”. And in murder Christians developed into the most successful of any religion. At the moment religious fanatics from another belief are trying to overtake the church, and our politicians leave them in our country wanting for nothing and even finance their crimes.

Is the child Jesus responsible? Nonsense. Millions of virtuous people were murdered before and after the “birth of Christ”, but precisely this legendary figure never walked on the ground of our vales of tears. The Christ legend is only a hypothesis, invented by a couple of story tellers, perhaps on commission from some agitator or demagogue who wanted to destabilise the late Roman Empire. Archaeologists and historians have not been able to find any objective witnesses from those times who can substantiate just one of the Jesus episodes, whereas with every other important event in world history numerous finds have been unearthed and detailed knowledge built up. The legends of the New Testament were invented a few hundred years later since no one could verify the truth with the methods available at that time. For this reason nobody is declared a saint just after their passing, so that their contemporaries cannot blow the whistle on the rascal who has been elevated to the throne.

Many people think as I do, and even most clergymen regard the New Testament as a big fairy tale book, like A Thousand and One Nights. But they do not trust themselves to admit it, so that they do not lose their jobs, and because they do not want to deny the scaredy cats among us, who fear the cold of the deep graveyard earth, their feeling of comfort. We don’t want to hear the truth and we close our eyes tightly against the knowledge of modern scientists, who ridicule every religion and in whose light all transcendental Christian traditions appear as outlandish cock-and-bull stories.

But why do we still celebrate Christmas today? And how can I bring you again into a peaceful advent mood? Every year at home I voluntarily put up a Christmas tree, decorate it and sing religious songs with my family and today with you: We should always take breaks from our career zealousness and ambition to spend time with our nearest and dearest and not neglect or forget them. Once a year we retreat, find time for peace and reflection, and appreciate how lucky we are to have found a focus in our families and our company, to be friends with good people, private and in other domains. Christmas offers the best opportunity to discover such happiness in ourselves, and we can listen peacefully to the lovely invented stories which are entwined in Christmas. We do not need to continually check their truth, we don’t do this with other fairy tales when we read them to our children. We clutch at the altruistic protagonist part and use it as an example.

People have to find a balance between the forces of egoism and altruism – the one force helps us to hold our own in the daily fight for survival, the other is characterised by selflessness, readiness to make sacrifices and protective instinct – from which our still weak children profit. A fighting spirit and a need for harmony are present in all of us, and both must flourish for us to proceed happily through life. One cannot always sing loudly, the heartfelt pianissimo also belongs to the music.

Fight for yourselves and take what you need and what you are entitled to the whole year long, but at Christmas make room for charity. And do not turn the advent period into a hectic chase and battle for presents, otherwise the spirit of advent is turned into exactly the opposite. Do not deploy your elbows at the rummage table at C&A in order to get everything done in time, do not push at every queue, and leave your fist in your trouser pocket when someone grabs the parking place in front of your nose. Do not let yourself be manipulated and coerced into consuming by Lübeck’s shops, who misuse the “name of the Lord”: already at the beginning of November Christmas songs resounded ting-a-ling, they wanted to speak to your conscience: think about the happiness of your children, don’t forget to buy mountains of presents, here they are inexpensive. Listen to me: rather give your children some of your time, give each only one or maximum two material presents and arrange with spouses and friends to forego Christmas presents (half of them we don’t use anyway and the plunder has to be returned in January). In the advent period stay at home a little more often, with coffee and gingerbread cakes, light the obligatory number of candles, decorate the tree on the holidays, sing a few songs, go for a walk, play with the children or read a nice book, perhaps this time not a thriller with ten deaths.

The world is calm, like sleeping in peaceful reverie. You hear no laughs, no weeping. It’s silent like a tree. Heavenly peace is allaying all discord. There’s just sacred love. This is a time for praying. Hear me, o God above!

Lübeck, 2007

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