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Bethlehem Bound: Journeying with the characters of Christmas by Andrew Nunn

28 October 2022

Imaginative reflections, says Lavinia Byrne

THE true spirit of Advent is best captured in the liturgy and seasonal carols. These lay out the dynamics of attentiveness and anticipation on which this particular season depends. They explore the three comings that we celebrate: the historical birth of the Saviour at the nativity, the daily coming in the eucharist, and, more mysteriously, the final coming that we await at the end of time.

The author of a good Advent book has to decide which of these theological insights will underpin it. As his title indicates, Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark, heads directly for the stable.

His book has named chapters, taking us from 17 December to Candlemas, namely 2 February. Strictly speaking, it is a Christmas book, and the names given to the chapters are those of all the characters you might expect to meet in a nativity play. We have the build-up with Jesse and Amos; the principals from central casting, Gabriel, Mary, and Joseph; the walk-on, if essential, parts such as the donkey and the innkeeper; and the visitors without whom no crib is complete — the shepherd, magi, and so on.

If this all sounds rather lightweight, then look again; for, below the rather whimsical narration, the observant reader will find a collection of reflections that open up the Christmas story in a fresh and imaginative way.

Alongside the first-person musings of, say, the innkeeper’s wife, the author will interpose insights from his ministry in south London; or, hidden in the musings of an angel, he will place a theological framework for understanding a verse from R. S. Thomas or Charles Causley.

The text does not stand alone. There are constant references to great works of art inspired by the events of Christmas. Helpfully, the book concludes with a list of internet references, all indicating websites where these paintings can be admired in their full splendour. At this point, the book becomes a manual for exploring and understanding the nativity in all its dimensions.

And, reassuringly, a new pathway opens up as the book’s focus, marked now by observing the liturgical Hours of Candlemas, moves from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.

Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.


Bethlehem Bound: Journeying with the characters of Christmas
Andrew Nunn
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £10.99

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