A Feature Review of
Two New Advent Devotionals:
Reviewed by Pam Kittredge
Standing on the threshold between ordinary time and sacred time, we open our hearts and become ready to enter into the season of Advent.
Advent—the beginning of the Christian liturgical year—is a reminder to the faithful of the imminent and impending birth of Jesus. We are a people pregnant—with hope, with love, with the joy of God’s coming. In fact, the word advent—from the Latin, adventus—means just that: coming.
Advent is—or can be—a time of expectant waiting, a time of holy anticipation of the miracle of Jesus’s birth.
Yet, almost inevitably it seems, modern life calls us away from the contemplative practices of stillness, silence and expectant waiting. We are led instead into the frenetic activity, the relentless pressure to consume, often associated with our culture’s Advent expectations. Rather than preparing our hearts, we prepare to overspend, to over commit. Amidst the bustle, time for God may be lost or abandoned.
Calling us back from the worldly aspects of the season to center us again in its holiness are two new Advent devotionals.
Celebrating Abundance, by Walter Brueggemann, offers readers a reflection for each day of the Advent season, as well a prayer for each of the twelve days of Christmas. Taken from Brueggemann’s sermon writings, and compiled by Richard Floyd, each reflection opens with a related passage of scripture and closes with a prayer. This format deepens and broadens the book’s possible uses making it suitable for personal meditation, Lectio Divina, or group study and worship.
The traditional themes of coming or waiting associated with Advent, are expanded by Brueggemann. Themes of newness, transformational energy, and alternatives to the status quo are developed and explored. Of particular interest is the section, “The Poem: Subversion and Summons” from the first Friday in Advent.
Poetry is written to contradict our sensory observations, our logic and reason. It is written to draw us forward into an alternative universe-the universe of the heart. The universe of possibilities. Connecting the celebration of Advent with poetry, as Brueggemann does, illuminates this alternative universe with a clear light. Poetry—here from the book of Isaiah—is subversive. It shows us not the world we have, but the world God means us to experience. It causes us to imagine. Then, it summons us to act into that world.
This is the essential theme of Advent: change is coming. The old power structures and the old understandings will fall away. It is a subversive theme.
The last section of Celebrating Abundance, “Prayers for the Christmas Season” highlights the universality of the experiences endured by the holy family. Phrases like, “no room”, “executive order” and “in the citadel” are given contemporary meanings as Brueggemann and Floyd lead us to pray for immigrants, those in captivity, and those bound to the world by wealth and power.
Rise Up Shepherd! Advent Reflections on the Spirituals, by Luke A. Powery, is arranged in a similar week-by-week format to Brueggemann’s book. Each day cites appropriate Biblical passages and closes with a prayer. But, the true focus of this devotional is on the words of Spirituals whose lyrics open each day’s reflection.
Spirituals, written in slavery, and sung then and now as expressions of faith, bring hope to contemporary people—the residents of a “fractured world”. Marrying Spirituals, and the hopeful season of Advent, can offer Powery writes, a double measure of hope. Something is coming. And while we wait, we sing of our hope in the kingdom.
Crossing cultural boundaries to reflect on the Spirituals from wherever we are, brings us closer to the world God wants for us—a world where the norm is human flourishing. A world that removes barriers and boundaries to full humanity in all its expressions. A world that offers reconciliation to one another and to God.
This book is fresh in its connection between Spirituals and Advent. It is almost exegetical in its search for the meanings within the lyrics.
While it’s never easy to take words from other times and places and apply them directly to contemporary people and situations, this book succeeds without seeming forced or falsely aligned.
In divisive times, when many people of faith are struggling to hold on to hope, Rise Up Shepherd offers through the Spirituals, both a thoughtful critique of the present, and a vision grounded in the hope of God’s coming.
Pam Kittredge received her MDiv. from the Earlham School of Religion in 2016. She is in discernment with the United Church of Christ. Pam blogs and reviews from an island off the coast of Maine where she lives with her partner, Hal, and her cat, Penney.