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Readers, hear these watchmen shouting

by
08 November 2006

Herald voice: Tanzio da Varallo’s Saint John the Baptist (c.1629)

Herald voice: Tanzio da Varallo’s Saint John the Baptist (c.1629)

Rachel Boulding reads reflections and prayers apposite for Advent

When the Time was Right: Bible readings for the Advent season
Stephen Rand
The Bible Reading Fellowship £7.99
(1-84101-486-9)
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

The Advent Calendar
Steven Croft
Darton, Longman & Todd £9.95
(0-232-52680-X)
Church Times Bookshop £9

Christmas by Candlelight: Readings and reflections from Advent to Epiphany
David Thomson
Authentic Media £4.99
(1-85078-699-2)

Immanuel: God with us
Anne Le Tissier
Crusade for World Revival £6.99
(1-85345-390-0)

Hope that Transforms: Daily readings for Advent and Christmas
St John’s College, Nottingham
Canterbury Press £4.99
(1-85311-784-6)

Responding to the Image of God: An Advent group study on respect
Joel Edwards
Kevin Mayhew £4.99
(1-84417-668-1)

Not for the Faint-hearted: An Advent study course for men Michael Apichella Kevin Mayhew £4.99
(1-84417-670-3)

Ready and Waiting: Exploring the essentials of Advent
Nick Fawcett
Kevin Mayhew £4.99
(1-84417-685-1)

Family Advent Challenge: Ideas, activities and fun for families
Nick Harding
Kevin Mayhew £4.99
(1-84417-671-1)

Praise God! Jesus is Born! Easy dramas, recitations and speeches for children
Judith Jolly et al.
Abingdon Press £4.99
(0-687-49001-4)

ALTHOUGH not yet as huge as the Lent feast (36 publications and counting, this year), the pile of Advent books grows steadily each season. This time, we have ten. Admittedly, five are booklets (each in A5 format, about 50 pages, saddle-stitched), but someone must be buying them.

To tidy them into groups: two full-length books offer material for each day of the season. When the Time was Right: Bible readings for the Advent season by Stephen Rand has three or four pages for every day from 1 December to 6 January — beginning with a Bible reading (printed in full) and ending with a prayer.

These are extended reflections, in the style of the New Daylight Bible notes that the author also writes for this publisher. Mr Rand, who is the co-chairman of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, writes with sensitivity and humane warmth about the questions of modern life which he finds exemplified in the readings. His elucidations of the passages open them up in ways that many will find helpful.

The Advent Calendar by Steven Croft, the Archbishops’ Missioner, is by far the longest Advent book on offer this year, at 250 pages. Despite being divided into sections under each date from 30 November to 24 December, it breaks free of the conventions of readings and utilitarian commentary, and tells a story — a modern parable. It’s an intriguing, imaginative page-turner about Alice, a modern teenager smarting from her parents’ divorce. She receives a magic Advent calendar that transports her to different worlds and times.

It’s all done with a light touch, and can be read on a number of levels — even just as a ripping yarn. The messages will leave you gently pondering rather than feeling battered, though they have a similar effect to the more obvious biblical reflections in that they prod you towards measuring your behaviour and attitudes by Christian standards. It could be an Advent treat for those who are open to this type of approach.

It’s all done with a light touch, and can be read on a number of levels — even just as a ripping yarn. The messages will leave you gently pondering rather than feeling battered, though they have a similar effect to the more obvious biblical reflections in that they prod you towards measuring your behaviour and attitudes by Christian standards. It could be an Advent treat for those who are open to this type of approach.

THREE shorter books offer more conventional Bible readings, reflections, and suggestions for prayer for each day of Advent. Christmas by Candlelight: Readings and reflections from Advent to Epiphany by the Ven. David Thomson, Archdeacon of Carlisle, comes, like so many volumes, with a recommendation by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Each day is set out on a double-page spread, offering a Bible reading (printed in full), a reflection, and a prayer. At the end of each week are study notes for discussion and prayer.

The pages are brightened by small photos, albeit in black and white, mainly of details from Carlisle Cathedral. It makes a very approachable and thought-provoking book, whose direct style in linking Bible passages to everyday life will be welcomed by many.

In Immanuel: God with us, Anne Le Tissier offers two to three pages of material for each day from 1 to 31 December, including references for readings, ideas for reflection and discussion, and suggestions for prayer. The short sections and bullet points make it easy to digest, although this is not a book to flip through. The many direct, personal questions (“What would prevent you from sharing a testimony with a non-believer: embarrassment or fear of rejection?”) and pithy quotations (including some from Archbishops Sentamu and Williams) will repay greater engagement. For those who can respond to this approach, the book should reward careful study.

The staff and students at St John’s College, Nottingham, have produced Hope that Transforms: Daily readings for Advent and Christmas. It is designed specially for this year, offering date-specific reflections on readings from the Revised Common Lectionary from Advent Sunday (26 November) to Christmas Eve. Each day is set out on a double-page spread, with the reading in full on one side, and a reflection (often ending in a prayer) on the other.

Naturally, the contributions of the 24 authors vary in style and quality, encompassing traditional Evangelicalism, warm-hearted human concern, and baffling trendiness. But there is some excellent material here, and the straightforward format should give the book a currency well beyond St John’s circles.

The publisher Kevin Mayhew offers three booklets marked for Advent group study. The big-name author here is the Revd Joel Edwards, general director of the Evangelical Alliance. His Responding to the Image of God is subtitled “An Advent group study on respect”, which refers to the idea of valuing people rather than to the political party. Mr Edwards links the concept to community, though he also emphasises self-respect. Revealingly, two of the seven sessions on the course are devoted to “respecting our leaders”.

The booklet offers some straightforward reflections; these would require some adaptation for use in a group (he doesn’t spell out how the material might function in such a setting). Thus, each chapter offers four sections: Exploration — a description of the theme, drawing in examples from modern culture; Reflection — linking the theme with a Bible passage; Application — bullet points suggesting ideas for further thought and action (“Imagine that you are an equality and diversity officer in a company”; “Make contact with a Christian organisation working with the persecuted Church”); and Supplication (a prayer, printed in full).

It might be welcomed by churches looking for introductory material for a contemporary theme, though it doesn’t look much at the Church’s seasonal themes of death and judgement.

Michael Apichella adopts a punchier style in Not for the Faint-hearted: An Advent study course for men. The subtitle is deliberate: you get the feeling that he wants to say “and real men, at that”. “Advent is for soldiers,” he writes. Each of the five weekly sessions has three Bible studies, which are followed by direct questions (“Examine your life honestly. How seriously do you take the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus?”) and a “rounding-off” section to gather up the themes (“In your opinion, what is a victorious Christian life?”).

Each of these ends with a true-life testimony (Jackie Pullinger, C. S. Lewis, and others), and a space in which participants can write their own prayer (“a practical task that will challenge you to become a warrior for Christ”, the author promises). The style is relentlessly pugilistic, but it might suit some.

Gentler and nearer to traditional Advent themes, with its focus on expectation, is Ready and Waiting: Exploring the essentials of Advent by the prolific Nick Fawcett. This is also divided into five sessions, but each contains far more material, making a booklet of 70 pages rather than the 50 of the two immediately above.

The author’s experience with this type of work emerges solidly, as he sets out his themes clearly, prints out Bible readings and prayers in full, and offers plenty of reflections and discussion points from which group leaders can pick something suitable. The approach feels grounded, mainly because of the extensive use of everyday stories (labelled scenarios) — imagined vignettes of modern life, illustrating his themes. It should have something to offer most mainstream parish groups.

Two further booklets offer resources for children. The fourth production from Kevin Mayhew is Family Advent Challenge: Ideas, activities and fun for families by Nick Harding, another of that publisher’s regular stable of authors. This offers a double-page spread of material for each day from 1 to 24 December (plus extra for years when Advent arrives in November), comprising a Bible reading (in reference form only); questions and discussion points to follow up the reading; “Advent info” containing facts about the season and its traditions; and activities. These last vary from “Write a short poem entitled ‘God with us’,” to “Organise a church ‘clean-up’ . . .”

The huge amount of material for every single day posits an extremely dedicated household: even a tenth of this would require some significant commitment.

From the United States comes Praise God! Jesus is Born! Easy dramas, recitations and speeches for children by Judith Jolly and a range of other contributors. The exclamation marks give a clue about the style. Many of the short scenes are simple to the point of being prosaic: no startling insights, just a basic script for anyone who doesn’t feel able to lift the words from the Bible. One longer piece, however, offers eight pages of retelling from the point of view of the animals in the stable. By the end, I had some sympathy with one character: not the donkey, the dove, or the sheep, but the one named “Grumpy Cow”.

To order these books email ctbookshop

To order these books email ctbookshop

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