, , , ,

Advent? I come from a very low church background where the ecclesiastical calendar or liturgical church year was not followed. I only had a vague familiarity with Advent as the 4 weeks before Christmas, a time of waiting for Christmas Day. In recent years, the liturgical calendar has interested me more, particularly since I’ve been in a denomination that follows it (individual churches more or less so). Well, it turns out that the way Advent is typically observed in churches today is not how the church observed it historically! The book Advent, The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge was enlightening and so informative in this regard. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018)

Advent is from the Latin and means coming. It has a future focus. Advent is about both the incarnation and the second coming, but really it is more about the second coming as that is what we currently wait for in the present age. In one sense, Advent is not only the 4 weeks before Christmas but reflects the time that we live in year round since it is about the tension we face as we live each and every day in the “already but not yet” – after the first coming but before the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church age is a time of watching and waiting.

This book is actually a collection of Advent sermons by the well-known Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. In case you have a distinct evangelical background, and Episcopal (and perhaps that she is a female) gives you pause – this is some very biblical, fiery, and challenging preaching getting to the heart of the matter! Wow. I was impressed and would have loved to have regularly sat under her preaching! She does not have a naive or Pollyanna view of life, and neither do I, so I appreciated her voice of reality too.

Since this is a collection of Advent sermons (plus a few writings), naturally there is repetition of content, but for me – being new to Advent – this was helpful. Also, during Advent over the years, different events were going on in society or the world and her sermons offer good examples of how to address real world events. For example, her town was next to Sandy Hook so they “felt” that tragedy in a more direct way than some of us.

The book has an exceptional 30 page introduction that I think would be valuable turned into a “stand alone” booklet to help people learn more about Advent, who might otherwise be intimidated by a long book of sermons. I myself would purchase such a booklet to give out to people. Rutledge, by the way, actually does not suggest you read straight through the book but rather use the table of contents to find what interests you. (I read it straight through.)

Page 30 says this: “I have envisioned specific groups of nonacademic readers for this book. These include (1) preachers and teachers of faith; (2) people who plan liturgies; and (3) laypeople who want to live more deeply out of the gospel as it is dramatized in the church’s year. In a general sense, though, this book will be valuable to anyone who is interested in the second coming, the last judgment, the end of the world, and especially the ethical dimension of the life of waiting and watching while also seeking to live a life of meaningful action.” – I agree and think she succeeded with what she envisioned for the book.

Note what follows “anyone who is interested in” above. Is that what many associate with Advent?? I’d say a big NO! My experience of Advent in local churches in recent years is that it is more of an upbeat and happy time. Indeed, the 4 Advent candles (one lit each week) are: peace, joy, love, and hope. Awww. Warm fuzzies.

Did you know that historically the Advent themes were: death, judgment, heaven, and hell – in that order! Merry Christmas! haha.

Since “the power of positive thinking” took the 20th century by storm (I wrote a book!) we desperately need, perhaps more so than any time in church history, a time of year to face reality – the reality of sin and darkness in this world. As Rutledge says: Advent is not for the faint of heart!

But, but…what about hope?? Yes, hope is a central theme of Advent!
“But hope is a very meager concept if not measured against the malevolence and godlessness of the forces that assail the creation and its creatures every day in ‘this present evil age’ (Galatians 1:4).” – page 23.

Can we even grasp the hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we refuse to truly acknowledge the darkness, and instead settle for “cheap comforts and superficial reassurances” – evading the hard things? Why do we even need a light? The light shines in the darkness, but the light of Christ won’t seem that bright or even necessary if we tone down the dark.

Rutledge emphasizes that a key to the season of Advent is the concept of two ages, colliding in the cross of Christ. The church age is placed between the first and second comings of Christ; and we live on the frontier of the turn of the ages. Doom on one hand, deliverance on the other! Advent faces the darkness but looks beyond it to the future coming of Christ in judgement to right all the wrong in this world. Promise is a key concept of Advent too. Eschatology is suppose to ENCOURAGE the church – so if your eschatology is making you fearful or dampening your hope – then your eschatology has lost focus or gone off course!

Again, if you are suspicious because Rutledge is Episcopalian, reading these sermons should reassure you. She makes the gospel clear. We are sinful, our good deeds won’t cut it, and we need a Savior! The Lord Jesus Christ “has compensated for our too-short list of good deeds by his one great deed.”  Honestly, her sermons make the gospel and other essential Christian truths clearer than most of the preaching I hear in so-called evangelical churches now-a-days!

I give this book 5 stars and highly recommend it to you, and feel like my review does not do it justice! I try to remind myself that a review is a review, and thus it has limits, and to truly grasp a book it must be read! So read this book! I will share some quotes and excerpts from the book in another post.

⇒ THANKS for visiting my blog (web site) Enough Light. To subscribe, see the right column. To share this post, use the buttons below. People are not reading blogs like they used to, so if you appreciate what you find here, please tell a friend. Thanks so much.