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Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent Paperback – September 29, 2012
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"We are invited to practice a unique kind of hospitality with one another, the sort that makes room for people to share the strange ways in which God is moving in their lives, the sort of hospitality that encourages people to put down wearisome baggage and trust God to fill their emptying hands and hearts, the sort of hospitality that nurtures space for holy listening and encourages people to believe that God is always in the business of making things new, bringing life into spaces that feel barren, and strengthening the weak to receive and offer the gifts of God."
Her themes are strong ones, which she draws from the biblical texts with unusual insight and the feel of hard-earned wisdom: Part One is "Surprised and Silenced by God"; Part Two is "Preparation and Laboring with God's Promises"; Part Three is "Trusting and Receiving God's Word." Her topics inject anti-consumerist leaven into the frenzy of cultural mania, and her familiarity with biblical characters will have them coming alive to you in fresh ways.
Quick, start a group and get this devotional to work through together. You might find yourselves making a surprising invitation to the Christ child to enter your lives in new ways.
Not since Walter Wangerin, Jr.'s Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom have I come across an advent devotional with this kind of depth and sensitivity.
But within the rhythm of the Christian year, Advent is the block of time leading up to Christmas given over to waiting. The practice is as countercultural as it comes. December's secular Festivus frenzy, with its shoppingholidaypartiescookieexchangesconcertsdecoratingwrapping is an exhausting runup to December 25. Though some count down through their December with Santa-themed "Advent" calendars, a nod to the waiting for Christmas, this counting down has more to do with beating a deadline than it does with waiting.
The kind of Advent observed through church history is all about waiting. As a Jewish believer, I have wrestled more than you can imagine with the lopsided, invented rhythm of "The Christian Year" as I've compared it to the cycle of celebration God gave his children in Leviticus 23. That said, I value the practice of Advent. I need to be invited to be still, to feel the weight of the wait for my salvation, to renew hope, to contemplate the miracle and gift of God-becoming-baby.
My companion for this year's December wait will be Enuma Okoro's Silence and Other Surprising Invitiations of Advent (Upper Room, 2012)**. Okoro, a fellow contributor to Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog, has created 28 days of brief, rich meditations readers can use to reorient themselves. Week one's meditations begin is a slightly non-traditional place - with John the Baptizer's father, Zechariah. Themes of doubt and lament fill the week's devotions. Week two moves readers to consider the lives of Zechariah and his aging, miraculously pregnant wife Elizabeth, as we ponder barrenness and our own hollow spaces. Elizabeth, Mary and John carry us through week three as we contemplate relationship and our own wait. Week four places that wait in the context of community. Small group questions and four corporate candle-lighting service suggestions round out the text.
Okoro nudges us toward beauty in the bleakness of our wait. From Day 9:
"How do we live in states of barrenness and still practice the devotion of Elizabeth? Amazingly, God works through many barren wombs in Scripture. Sarah has Isaac. Hannah has Samuel. Ruth has Obadiah. Elizabeth has John. From the wombs the world calls cursed, forgotten, and barren, God brings forth life used to save, heal, guide, and prepare others for the kingdom. Our own lives testify to the painful fact that barrenness is not always transformed this side of heaven. Sometimes the child is not born, the loneliness persists, the ache deepens. But we have stories that dare us to remember that God is able, that God is present, and that God is yet coming. We have the witness of scripture, but we also strain our ears to listen for similar stories within our own communities. Where is God breaking in now? Who among us has an unbelievable song to sing of God's abundant provision? Who calls us to dare to hope?"
I appreciate the way in which Okoro's words speak right to my soul. I'll wait with Silence beginning at the end of this month. Recommended.
** How unbiased can a review be when I know the author and received a comp copy from her publisher? I'll leave that to you decide. As for me, I'm happy to share my thoughts about books I like a lot. I liked this book a lot.
"Silence" takes a somewhat different slant on Advent by focusing attention on the longings and doubts of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. From the Preface: "Theirs is a story of accustomed longing and unmet desire, sustained prayer, occasional doubt, and seasons of silent retreat and seclusion. We can learn much about the tensions of a genuine faith journey from the trials and surprises that Zechariah and Elizabeth encountered in their attempts to live before God. And we can learn about the mercy and faithfulness of a God who acts in God's own timing and for God's wider purposes."
My church doesn't emphasize the observance of Advent, but I have come to value this time of being still before the Lord in waiting and anticipation. In the midst of hectic and often stressful weeks leading up to Christmas, "Silence" takes us deeper than most Advent devotionals that I've seen, encouraging us in the practice of contemplative prayer. "Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God."
In the final week, as we rejoice in the miracle and gift of God's Son, Okoro writes: "Jesus' birth invites us to lay down our concerns for a moment and kneel with awe and thanksgiving at the faithfulness and love of God. The longer we gaze upon Jesus, the more we realize that life as we know it can no longer remain the same. The wait for Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary is over, but their trust in God is just beginning. . . . Our adoration of the Christ child must lead to obedience and devotion." - From Day 24
For anyone looking for an Advent devotional with depth and sensitivity, I highly recommend "Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent."
This book was provided by Upper Room through Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.