We are on the cusp of entering Advent.
Churches will be getting their four candles ready, and the one for Christmas Day. The young and the not-so-young will be able to begin using their Advent calendars. Today, while in a posh Latvian supermarket, I saw a sumptuous looking and expensive Advent cheese calendar which had a different cheese for each of the 24 days of Advent. I am tempted to use the sad joke that this would go down well with Christmas crackers, but I am sure that I couldn’t smuggle that old chestnut past the editor! (He did. Ed.)
The great thing about Advent is that it gives us a good run up to Christmas. For preachers to have a fruitful Advent and Christmas season it is important to feed the imagination.
This year I have enjoyed reading the Advent book Mary’s Voice by Amy Orr-Ewing. In this beautifully illustrated work we follow Mary through her journey from first hearing about her special assignment to the events around the cross, where her first born died.
Evangelical preachers seldom do a good job when preaching on Mary. We can be so nervous about turning the spotlight on Mary that we leave her in the shadows at the back of the stage. Our approach can be like the record producer who has mixed down a musical contribution by one of the singers or musicians so that they can hardly be heard. Amy Orr-Ewing sits at the mixing desk and turns up Mary’s voice. This is Mary’s voice remastered, and it is compelling.
It is good to be reminded of Luke’s description of the depth of Mary’s interior life when she responds to the bizarre event of a group of shepherds invading her “maternity ward”:
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
I guess that the Gospel writer Luke wants us to make the connection between this verse and the opening four verses of his Gospel, where he explains that he has written with the aid of eyewitness accounts. Many of the details in the first two chapters of Luke could only have come from Mary’s carefully curated memory bank.
Some preachers are more contemplative, spending lots of time on their own with their thoughts. This is an important ingredient in the process of preaching. Treasuring and pondering makes our preaching deep and rich but can also make it sound distant and unconnected to the everyday.
Other preachers are people of action, with full diaries but sometimes empty tanks.
High speed action without any time for contemplation is like someone constantly using their contactless debit card without thinking about keeping the funds in their account topped up.
As Amy Orr-Ewing puts it:
“The Christian life is a beautiful combination of treasuring and witnessing. We are called as followers of Jesus to do both — to ponder and to proclaim … Mary is a model of a person who both treasures and ponders, who retreats and reflects but also works, moves, acts, and proclaims.”