“Advent,” says Fleming Rutledge, “is definitely not for sissies.” As the midnight of the Christian year, Advent is rife with dark, gritty realities. In this book Rutledge spotlights the rich significance of the Advent season not just as transitional but as vibrant and profound in its own right.
With her trademark wit and wisdom, Rutledge explores Advent as a time of such paradoxes as waiting and hastening, suffering and hope, justice and mercy, now and not-yet. Showing how Advent at once celebrates Christ’s incarnation and his second coming, Rutledge masterfully unfolds the ethical and eschatological implications of this special season.
“Since the Advent season has been so closely linked to Christmas over the years, it may be startling to hear that Advent is not simply a transitional season but in and of itself communicates a message of immense, even ultimate, importance. Of all the seasons of the church year, Advent most closely mirrors the daily lives of Christians and of the church, asks the most important ethical questions, presents the most accurate picture of the human condition, and above all, orients us to the future of the God who will come again. The material collected in this book is intended as witness to those claims.” (Page 1)
“If there is one foundational truth that I have learned from apocalyptic theology, it is this: God is the subject of the verb. God doesn’t need us to help him make his ‘dream’ come true; God is on the march far ahead of us, bringing his purposes to pass, and if we don’t run to catch up with him, he will commandeer someone else. If God is not the acting agent, the subject of the sentences in the sermon, then it’s not the gospel. If the sermon is an exhortation to us to help out a ‘dreaming’ God build the kingdom, as if he couldn’t do it without our efforts, it’s not the gospel.” (Pages 26–27)
“It might be said of Advent that it is not for the faint of heart. To grasp the depth of the human predicament, one has to be willing to enter into the very worst. This is not the same thing as going to horror films, which are essentially entertainment. Entering into the very worst means giving serious consideration to the most hopeless situations: for instance, a facility for the most profound cases of developmental disability. What hope is there for a ward full of people who will never sit up, walk, speak, or feed themselves? Tourists go to the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau and take pictures, but who can really imagine the smells and sounds of the most depraved of all situations? The tourist can turn away in relief and go to lunch.” (Page 9)
With her trademark eloquence and theological rigor, Episcopal priest Rutledge (The Crucifixion) reflects on the liturgical season of Advent, challenging the conventional interpretation of Advent as preparation for Christmas.... Rutledge intends this book as a “valedictory message to serious young preachers,” and it will also appeal to anyone looking for challenging, insightful, and inspiring sermons that wrestle with the grim reality of suffering and “the problem of evil” while also offering hope.
Fleming Rutledge’s Advent preaching bursts upon us with the same elemental force as the preaching of John the Baptist. Rutledge’s fine crafting of language may be subtler than John’s, but she carries forward his incisive, apocalyptic message of judgment and hope. This is essential preaching for a church wallowing in self-referential sentimentality and caught in captivity to the compromises of the present political order. This is preaching that tells the truth about the world’s suffering and proclaims that God acts to rescue us. Do not drift anesthetized through another season of Advent; read this book.
—Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke University
My not-so-secret hope is that Fleming Rutledge’s Advent would become required reading in our seminaries and the focus of vestry book clubs, elder retreats, and worship leader workshops. Because that would give me hope for an apocalyptic renewal in the church—that we would learn again how to live as an Advent people, hoping in a God who acts and is making all things new. Taking this book to heart would teach us how to live wisely, faithfully, and prophetically in the Time Between
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