HERE is a book that resolutely keeps the reader’s attention focused on Advent by gazing at the liturgical season through the lens of Christmas rather than the other way round. Subtitled An Advent adventure through Genesis, Revelation and points in between, it has a full scriptural reach, bringing texts from both the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament for exploration.
With daily readings reaching from 1 December to 6 January, the book likewise embraces more than a calendar month, although the reader should be warned that Advent this year begins on 28 November. Along with the biblical texts, Jo Swinney provides a commentary, a reflection, and a prayer. As head of communications at A Rocha, an international charity specialising in “conservation and hope”, she has also worked for the Bible Society and the Scripture Union, using the MA in Theology which she gained from Regent College, Vancouver.
So far, so straightforward. But, as she describes in her introduction, a personal tragedy occurred early on as she was writing it, namely the death of her mother in a car accident in South Africa. This could have put a stop to her writing, only, as she herself observes, Advent is a “time of anticipation”, and so it exposes the reader to the themes of “salvation and restoration”. What could have been an academic exercise becomes something alive and actual.
This sense of the reality of what the incarnation brings into our world — both on a personal and a public level — is best reflected in the book’s prayers, which are beautifully and authoritatively written.
This Advent will be unlike any other, in so far as the actual celebration of Christmas will seem more possible than it did a year ago. How timely to have a book that captures the moment.
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.
The Whole Christmas Story: An Advent adventure through Genesis, Revelation, and points in between
Church Times Bookshop £8.09