Zondervan, 224 pages | October 20, 2020
After 20 years of ministry and 20 years of worship committee meetings trying to find a fresh take on the old story of Advent, I’m always on the lookout for something different. Each year it gets harder and creativity eludes me. And yet, in a season like Advent, one needs the new or different thing to also still be solidly anchored in what is, after all, the central story that forms us. So how do we make it fresh and compelling, and at the same time honor the nostalgia that draws folks back to the season with warm regard year after year?
Scott Erickson’s book “Honest Advent” fits the bill on all counts. The Scriptures are familiar and easily relatable. You will recognize them. You won’t find obscure tales or little-known bits of the Bible trying to startle or shock you. What you’ll find is a familiar story pieced together in a unique way. The Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Scriptures are woven together from chapter to chapter with not one bit of it upstaging or overshadowing the other.
The addition of Erickson’s iconography and art, along with a centering on the female elements of the story, make it fresh in a way that is arguably more important now than ever. That the author is writing during the time of a worldwide pandemic is clear and it’s easy to bring our COVID-19 realities to these meditations for consideration and for soothing.
At first, as I read the words of praise in the beginning of the book and as they talked about the book exploring the feminine in the Advent story, I was skeptical — skeptical about a series of reflections and icons coming from a man exploring such things. And then I was very aware that here I am, a man, trying to have something to say about that. I mean, perhaps we should just keep our traps shut? But as I read and prayed through the stories and reflections, I found Erickson, through the lens of art and the stories of women, pulling me into the season in a way I had not been before. And of course, because the story of Advent in Scripture covers so much (and Erickson connects the dots from Creation to Revelation), even though the iconography and art was decidedly from the perspective of womanhood and motherhood, the overall point of view was more universal and I found a picture painted of a larger human experience that I could enter into. In particular, the reflection on an imagined meeting between Eve and Mary was compelling as it explored the idea of “first things.”
A constant theme in the reflections is the idea of the here and now. Quoting Richard Rohr’s definition of his spirituality, “The physical world is the doorway to the spiritual.” Erickson hits what I think is the key truth behind the idea of advent and incarnation: that God isn’t far away — we encounter God here and now, in this very world. Some might say, “Well no kidding, Sherlock.” And fair enough. But how often do we everyday Advent people live out a whole day or even a whole hour fully aware of the presence of God right next to us?
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