Ever since starting to work for SPCK back in 2016, I’ve come more and more to appreciate the season of Advent – and have used various different books to ‘lean in’ to this vital season of the Church’s year. Recently our church, South West London Vineyard, has tended to focus particularly on Advent, and we had a great sermon series this year that I’d recommend listening in to. My Advent reading wasn’t one of the three I recommended recently – but was instead a book of collected sermons by Fleming Rutledge. I’m very glad I read this book, as I hope will be apparent from this review.
Whilst some books that are collections of sermons struggle to be actual books, there are a number of threads that tie Advent together. First amongst these, in my view, is the nascent idea, more present in some sermons than others, that Advent is actually the season the church is in, until Christ comes again. This is something that comes out particularly in the Advent sermons, but also in the pre-Advent ones. Advent gives us the thrilling and painful mix of hope and waiting. Fleming writes, beautifully, that: “We do not know why God delays so long. We do not know why he so often hides his face. We do not know why so many have to suffer so much with so little apparent meaning. All we know is that there is this rumour, this hope, this expectation, that the Master of the house is coming back…”. I love how she writes (and preaches) about Advent and the disarmingly beautiful tension of living in the in between, the now and the not yet of the Kingdom of God.
The second reason I loved this book is that whilst they have been tidied up for publication these are clearly sermons. There is biblical text, challenge to our contemporary culture, and passionate concern and engagement with the world around us. These are not limp, insipid time-filling homilies – or long, intricate expositions. This is a form of sermon that I have not much been exposed to – but is something that is beautiful in its own way. Short, punchy, bible-shaped, and connected to the congregation. Would that more preaching be like this!
The third and final reason I enjoyed reading this book so much was because of the way that Fleming writes on and fleshes out the character of John the Baptist. John is a minor chapter in the biblical narrative, but a vital one: “All four New Testament Evangelists agree: there is no good news, no gospel of Jesus Christ, without John the Baptist. John’s whole life was lived with but one purpose; he was born, a man of destiny, to declare the imminent arrival of the coming Messiah… To be the witness, to point away from himself to Jesus Christ – this is the destiny of John, and in these things, he is a model for every Christian preacher“.
As I quoted in a recent blog post, “To be a Christian is to live every day of our lives in solidarity with those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, but to live in the unshakeable hope of those who expect the dawn“. Amen! This book is a perfect ‘way in’ to Advent, and with a helpful index of Scriptural passages referenced (5 double-columned pages, covering most books of the Bible!) is also a likely useful aid to anyone preaching through Advent or the Church year. I would warmly recommend this book, particularly to church leaders, but to anyone thinking about reading something a bit different for Advent this year, next year, or years to come.