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Advent book review: An Advent Manifesto: Daily readings and reflections from Isaiah and Luke by Martyn Percy

27 October 2023

Peter McGeary reviews reflections that carry on into the new year

THEY say that less is more. The most memorable sermons in my experience have been concise and apparently spontaneous. Anyone can go on and on about a given subject; it takes real skill and time to boil down what one wants to say to a few paragraphs.

Advent is in many ways my favourite part of the liturgical year. Frustratingly brief, it is bursting with themes of memory, presence, and expectation. There is too much to take in in the time available, it would seem, which can make Advent a tricky season to write about.

Martyn Percy has spent a lot of his ministry in academic circles, but in this book he wears his learning lightly. The principle of “less is more” applies here. In this series of daily reflections, Percy concentrates on drilling down into passages from the prophet Isaiah, and the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel. He resists the temptation to use a wide variety of scriptural texts (there is enough of that in the liturgical lectionary already), and this gives his book a deeper focus on particular texts.

Each week of Advent has a particular overarching text from Luke (annunciation, visitation, Magnificat, and Benedictus). Weekdays consist of a short reflection on a section of the text, followed by a prayer and some points for contemplation. A slight change of gear at the weekend comprises a canticle from Isaiah, reflection, prayer, and contemplation intended more to link up with that Sunday’s liturgy.

There is a shift again in the days before and after Christmas, and there is material, too, for the new year and the feasts of the Epiphany and Candlemas. This format works well, because there is deliberately not too much to take in: the author knows that we will be busy with other things; so any Advent discipline that we give ourselves needs to be do-able.

This book would be a good way of taking a short time each day to remind ourselves of the ancient themes of Advent, not as an exercise in spiritual archaeology, but as a way of making present the ancient challenges of the season: calls to repentance and change, that we might find again, in the author’s words, “the politics of paradise and consequences of God’s love”.

The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.

An Advent Manifesto: Daily readings and reflections from Isaiah and Luke
Martyn Percy
BRF £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.99

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