Barth's Christmas: Prayer not Anxiety
I can help myself. When Christmas and Advent come around I feel compelled to read Barth's Christmas sermons in Deliverance to the Captives. The sermons themselves are small so there is rarely anything "new" for me to discover. Instead, little sentences and phrases strike a harmonized chord more than they did at their last reading.
This time around reading the sermon "The Great Dispensation," I was reminded of the importance of Prayer to the doctrines of sanctification and ethics to Barth. I have written previously via this sermon's text on anxiety, but it was the later portion of this sermon that stood out this time.
"The coming of this Lord is the mystery of the great dispensation. As the storms of spring thaw the ice and snow, and the fire kindles the tinder, the Lord wipes out our anxieties and sweep them away. We need not care because we are taking care of, because we are rightfully released from the grip of anxiety, because it would be wrong to worry all the same?
You ask me: 'What remains to be done by us, the carefree?' With this question a new anxiety creeps in, disguised in proud defiance. It is stubborn yet violent as if the best and most sacred qualities of human life came under attack. What creatures we are! We talk about our anxieties, they make us miserable, yet when the great dispensation is announced and we are told not to be anxious, then it becomes evident how much we appreciate, even treasure and nurture our worries and our own self in them." (105)
In the face of God drawing near to us in Jesus Christ, the New Testament ceases for anxiety to be a Christian experience. And yet, believers find in themselves an attraction and desire for the importance of anxiety. We find ourselves seeking something that lets us think about ourselves independent of God.
But Christians are not permitted to sit on their hands or twiddle their thumbs. There is a positive action that the Christian can take. This is where Barth's reoccurring but never entirely dominate view on prayer sneaks into view. Prayer remains an action for the Christian to communicate dependence upon God—it is an anti-anxiety action,
"When the Lord is at hand and shuts the door to anxiety, he opens another door for us. He leads us on firm ground and proposes things and activities that are far better than worrying. Paul describes these 'far better things' as follows: But in everything… Let your requests be known to God. This is what Christmas invites and encourages us to do as those whom our Lord saved and freed, and delivered from the prison of anxiety ...
Only prayer, then? Yes, only prayer! Have you ever really tried to cast all your cares for the Lord in incessant prayer…Whoever has tried and done this knows the such prayer, nothing but prayer, includes villages, steady and effective action. He is not afraid that prayer might not be sufficient. Rather, through prayer, he will be incited to bring his life, his thoughts, his words, and his deeds step-by-step into accordance with his supplications. He will make small and unassuming, yet very unintentional and unforeseeable way, he will shed some light for others on this dark Earth.
In this sense, let us celebrate Christmas joyfully. We may and we can do it; we have every reason to do it—the Lord is nigh! How can we not keep a joyful feast?" (106-107)