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November 30, 2007

New Year's readings

So, have you decided what you’ll start reading on Sunday?

Maybe you think the question is about a month early: You haven’t even opened your Christmas presents, so how can you start your New Year’s reading?

I’m talking, of course, about the other “New Year,” which we know better as Advent. It is the time when Christians, from the ancient days on, have heard the call to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah. And that means learning from the Lord to “walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2: 3) ...not rushing through the decked halls of the malls.

But don’t think that last comment means I’m going to join the chorus of those lamenting the secularization of Christmas. I’m not. We’ve got a choice, you see. No one can take Christ out of Christmas, or keep in except us. And I’ve learned that the best way for me to “walk in his paths” during the dark December days is simply to make time for Advent devotions.

Several good options sit on my desk this afternoon. One provides brief reflections on biblical texts for each day, written by faculty from Luther Seminary and Pacific Lutheran Seminary . It’s called “Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn,” the title of an Advent hymn by Marty Haugen. It’s offered as a gift, with large-print copies also available (1-888-358-8437). Another small booklet is “Advent Profiles” by John Gugel, a retired ELCA pastor and frequent contributor to The Lutheran. His day-by-day meditation considers the various historical figures involved in the coming of the Messiah. It is published by Creative Communications for the Parish .

And Paraclete Press has published a beautiful, beautiful book of essays on the daily Scripture readings by leading theological thinkers and spiritual teachers—Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Paterson and Luci Shaw—called God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas. It’s illustrated with classic art work from Rembrant and da Vinci to Gauguin and Chagall. I’ve not been able to not browse through these pages.

I return, though, to the essay before the daily devotions start in which Beth Bevis raises and answers the question: “What does it mean to ‘live the church year?’ ”

It means, briefly, that “The eternal is aligned with the here and now,” she writes. That is good to remember for every New Year.

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