THIS YEAR has brought some interesting books focused on the Christian Advent – what one of them calls the nativity Lent – rather than the Christmas season of secular (and popular church) observance.
This is the kind of book that people regard as “normal” for Lent, but rarely for Advent: a set of day-by-day meditations from Advent Sunday through the 12 days of Christmas. It is truly ecumenical, carrying five forewords representing different denominations, and drawing generously on the traditions of both eastern and western spirituality, Catholic and Protestant. As the meditations take us through the great mysteries of God’s old and new covenants with humanity, they are connected by an unobtrusive over-arching reminder that this is what we all believe in common. Though deceptively simple when skimmed, the meditations reward re-reading with profound insights. Each gently weaves Scripture, other writings, and poetry from many periods, together with the author’s own thoughts into a rich tapestry of advent devotion – a happy counter balance to the inexorable business which is our lot as we prepare to celebrate God’s Nativity.
Start on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent to ponder one of these imaginative stories each week and you would complete the set around Easter. The three faces are those of the infant Jesus, the adult Christ who “went about doing good”, and the Saviour suffering on our behalf. There is also the risen Christ of the garden, which becomes a new Garden of Eden: lost to humanity through our first disobedience, now restored to us through the cross. The Eden theme runs through all these meditations, including one linking a re-visit to the garden with the sensuality of the Bible’s Song of Songs. Charming is an inadequate word for this collection of stories, though many are that. Thought-provoking? Yes. Perhaps “haunting” describes it best.
[pullquote]These are excellent examples of local initiative by two Anglican parishes in Calgary, and deserve to be more widely known. Pass It On (Holy Nativity) collects cultural customs and rituals from many lands, and passes them on through shared story, reminiscence, recipes, prayers and graces. Most of the book revolves around family celebration during the seasons of the church year, together with rites of passage, which while effective seem to be fairly easy to do. One could start using this anytime, but with Advent starting on Dec. 3, there’s still time to begin at the beginning. There is an interesting Christmas cake recipe, linked to the tradition of the old Stir Up Sunday collect in the Book of Common Prayer.
Family Prayers (St. Peter’s) is just that – a collection of prayers new and old for use by individuals trying to form prayers for themselves, or corporately for family occasions – from all the usual ones to a teen receiving a new driver’s licence. Many of them were contributed by parishioners out of their own treasured experiences. Both books offer real support for people who want to enrich their family relationships in a Christian way.
Bill Portman is the book review editor of the Anglican Journal.