IM Book Review: Reflections of Immanuel, by Scott Lencke

IM Book Review: Reflections of Immanuel, by Scott Lencke

“Getting ready for Christmas” is commonly experienced as an uptick in the speed and frenzy of life. We rush, scurry, and get caught up in the “mall religion” around us. With grace and insight, Scott Lencke offers us a well-trodden but forgotten alternative path — the Advent way. Leading us to contemplate markers left by prophets, psalmists, sages, and evangelists along the road, Scott accompanies us on a slow, conversational walk to the manger of Immanuel.

• Chaplain Mike, Internet Monk

One of the positive developments within evangelicalism during my lifetime has been more openness toward marking aspects of the Church Year (thank you most of all, Robert Webber).

The first and most natural season that I became aware of as an evangelical pastor and worship leader was Advent. The idea of a time of preparation for Christmas and the coming of Christ was a relatively easy sell, especially when the consumer culture we’re immersed in started gearing up for the “holiday season” even earlier.

This has led to the annual publication of devotional guides for Advent, so that Christians can have material on which to reflect, meditate, and pray during the days and weeks leading up to the Nativity. This year, one of our good friends here at Internet Monk, Scott Lencke, has written such a guide, called Reflections of Immanuel.

Here is a brief video trailer, introducing Scott’s book:

Scott begins Reflections by reminding us of our cultural setting here in the West (“mall religion”), which rushes us into Christmas through consumeristic ideology and a bombardment of busy-ness that leaves many of us, including church leaders and workers, exhausted. The hustle and bustle of the season renders us incapable of sustained silence and contemplation on the promise of Christ and the mystery of the Incarnation. Instead, in this book Scott Lencke calls us to “the radical act of waiting.”

We can practice waiting.

In a season of pause, we learn the practice of not bowing to the culturally formed golden calf. We can do this because we first need to journey through the season of Advent before we come to Christmas.

In all, I hope this little book reminds us and refocuses us toward what the church has celebrated for two millennia. It asks us to celebrate Christmas. We will get to that. However, it first invites us to join the Advent path, which kicks off the new year in the wider Christian story.

Along this Advent path, Scott invites us to return to the First Testament roots of the Christmas story, to “find solace in the fact that my story is part of a more magnificent than my own, even beyond what I can fathom.” Don’t just tell the Christmas story, tell the Advent story.

And so we stop back in the days of the prophet Isaiah, to hear him give the sign of Immanuel to a king with shaky faith named Ahaz. Scott also takes us to Isaiah 9, where we reflect on the nature of the kingdom this child from David’s line will bring, the government he will bear on his own shoulders.

Scott Lencke also takes us to a place that I have not traveled much during Advent — to the place where Job suffered and argued with his “comforters.” This is the place of lament, pain, tears, disappointment, and anger. He links Job’s story with Israel’s history of suffering under her oppressors and finds in it a collective message of anguish as well.

This part of the book, along with another chapter on the psalms of lament, offer a much-needed injection of the theology of the cross into our preparations for Christmas. Traditionally, Advent is a penitential season. It is designed to be a time of lament, confession, and crying out to God. This part of Scott’s book contains a most significant message for Christians today, for whom the “Christmas season” is typically portrayed as a continual feast.

I won’t describe every point along the path on which Scott leads us in the Advent journey, but I appreciate the fact that he shows us a few sights along the way that give unique insight into the idea of waiting and preparing our hearts to welcome Christ at Christmas. For example, I love his chapter on the surprising four women from the First Testament in Matthew’s genealogy. It reminds us that the biblical story is “untidy” (just like our lives), and that it includes “a myriad of people whom even religious folk despised. From the blind and diseased, to prostitutes and tax collectors, to the shameful and unimportant.” Yep. The true nature of the season is not nearly as pretty as our holiday decorations.

Thanks, Scott, for giving us your own thoughtful, cogent reflections to help us slow down and ponder what it means to wait for Jesus and know him better as Immanuel, God with us.

I’m happy to recommend Reflections of Immanuel for our Advent meditations this year.

23 thoughts on “IM Book Review: Reflections of Immanuel, by Scott Lencke

  1. Mike, I have learned so much about lament in the past year. And my church just finished going through Lamentations. I am grateful for the good expression of lament – something I was never taught or heard much of for many years within evangelicalism.

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  2. A couple of my favourite quotes from “Reflections on Immanuel”:

    On Lament in Advent:

    I understand that lament may seem more in line with the season of Lent than Advent. Isn’t Advent more about joyous expectation? But recalling the Jews’ painful plight, under the constant rule of evil empires as they yearned for and awaited the coming Messiah, the season of Advent also gives us permission to feel our own sorrow and grief as we even now long for Jesus’s final coming to renew our world.

    Immanuel, God with us, steps into our pain. Many times, we do not sense it. But he remains Immanuel. And, in this, he offers us the gift of lament as we long for his coming during the season of Advent.

    On Waiting and Hoping:

    The psalmists were brutally honest at times about their situations.
    Yet, somehow, amid the sorrow and suffering, they recalled
    their hope in God. They were waiting for—hopefully anticipating—
    God to do something real and tangible in their midst.

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  3. Of course, things will adapt. I don’t think we do things exactly as the early church of Acts, nor from the centuries just after. So I understand the notion, “There is no way we can make our current socioeconomic reality match theirs…” However, I think we can still intentionally remember and worship according to the liturgical calendar over these Advent and Christmas seasons (and the rest of the church’s seasons).

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  4. I had the privilege of reading a PDF of Scott’s book just as it was released. I was found Scott’s desire to not rush forward, but to draw us back into the Old Testament stories something that is usually sorely missing.

    Scott’s writing reminded me of something that Michael Spencer himself had written in his first chapter on Mark:

    Mark is saying to us that you are not going to understand much about Jesus with your Bible closed. But with your Bible open and your mind and heart in the flow of God’s story from the Old Testament you will see who Jesus is and you will understand him. Jesus has roots that help us understand him but they are not family roots, they are Bible roots: roots that go down deep into scripture.

    By starting with Isaiah, Mark takes us into the entire Old Covenant. The Good News begins with the promise and expectation of a kingdom that is the entire Old Testament story. Isaiah is particularly the prophet of the coming Kingdom of God, and Mark locates the beginnings of Jesus’ story not in birth records or a hometown, but in a prediction that someone would come announcing the way of the Lord. Scholars will point out, of course, that Mark is quoting a combination of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. The two prophets touch on two different aspects of the coming Kingdom of God: judgement and restoration. John the Baptist brings these two parts of the Kingdom message together. The Lord is coming to restore his people, but it will be a time of cleansing and refinement, not just celebration.

    Scott does a great job of delving into these and other related Old Testament stories and bringing them to life.

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  5. Sorry, senecag, but the malevolent Spirit of Harold Camping Past hovers over the entire Family Radio enterprise like a noxious fog.

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  6. Although… I think we have lost some (if not most) of the underlying meaning of Advent. It is a time of waiting, reflection, repentance and preparation. And the one thing each of these aspects holds in common is simply the quiet that comes with it. And I find that refreshingly beautiful and surprisingly powerful.

    I have nothing against putting out the decorations and singing all the songs early. I am mostly franciscan in temperament (or at least I tell myself that) and most every Friar I know displays a creche 365 days of the year as a constant reminder of the incarnation.

    So to all the stores and Tv shows – go ahead and crank it up. I’m not one to second guess your motives. Instead of setting any expectations on the proper way to celebrate, let’s bring all the attention we can to the incarnation. God bless them all.

    Just remember the waiting is holy.

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  7. Apologize for the tangent.

    I was not able to get to the post yesterday, but on reading today really enjoyed the wordplay. I can explain to you six ways from Sunday how not to end a sentence with a dangling participle, but such creativity eludes me. Bravo!

    Also, re Hillbilly Elegy, Dreher has some interesting thoughts. Aside from his remarks earlier this week about the movie sticking strictly to the family story and not venturing into some of the other complications, there is this today, link below, which I think is insightful; do read to the end, if you read it. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I plan to. Don’t know if y’all are aware, but Vance ended up being received into the Catholic Church.

    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/hillbilly-elegy-class-conflict-mercy/

    Dana

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  8. I do not mean my comments to detract from the value of observing Advent, Scott, especially for those coming out of a liturgically anemic form of evangelicalism who are trying to flesh out and embody there faith in ways that are new to them, though old to the Church. But I think we should keep in mind that both the Advent and Christmas seasons developed gradually over the first centuries of the Church, from being nonexistent to eventually becoming full blown liturgical seasons. When they did mature into fully seasonal observances, it was in agricultural cultures that not only allowed, but required long months of relative inactivity after harvest, which means they took their shapes in a very different socioeconomic reality. The vast majority of people in those times were involved in farming, and would’ve had long periods of down time to accommodate both extended Advent and Christmas observances. There is no way we can make our current socioeconomic reality match theirs, and so we can not observe these practices in the same ways that they may have been able to (of course, if one were a slave strict personal observance would not have been possible in many cases in those times either). Picking-and-choosing emphases in re-appropriating these observances is really necessary for us because of our different context.

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  9. I have no desire to party for twelve days. I’ll have to go back to work the Monday after Christmas Day. And we are in Covitide for the rest of this year, and at least the beginning of next. It will be a quiet Advent and Christmas, which is fine with me. And we’re not even sure our church will be having in-person services for Christmas.

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  10. My wife has purchased a book of Advent devotions for us to use together this year. But there will also be the Christmas music over the same period of time, and the tree. Everything will be all mixed up, just like the rest of life.

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  11. Streaming Christmas Music from Family Radio as of NOW

    I have an Alexa device. The command is: “Alexa, enable family radio.” It will give you 3 options including streaming Christmas Music.

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  12. I’m a mainline Protestant Christian who has been member of numerous churches over the years, all of which observed the traditional liturgical calendar more or less stringently, but neither I nor my wife are advocates for keeping Advent untainted by early Christmas, or observing Christmastide strictly by the calendar. We will put up our tree this weekend, and on Epiphany I will follow my tradition of reciting aloud Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi.” The tree will come down when there’s time. My wife, who loves Christmas music secular and sacred, has already started us listening to our Christmas CDs.

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  13. Well if you go by those arbiters of culture, the stores, Halloween begins in late September, Thanksgiving in late October, and Christmas in mid-November. If you try to celebrate traditionally I’m afraid you’ll be like the hapless tourist on the Marc train platform here in DC who goes to the loading zone at the previously announced arrival time and finds the train already departed.

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  14. I love that passage from Hab 2:20. I have quoted it twice in the past few weeks – one in a sermon, one in teaching on the minor prophet.

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  15. That is funny about the Christmas greeting. Yeah, most don’t know what to do with the reality that Christmas lasts a full 12 days. We in America don’t know how to celebrate. We know how to “party” (for a few hours, then go home). We really don’t know how to celebrate for long periods of time like the ancients.

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  16. an ancient prophecy: Habakkuk 2:20 “The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.”

    and from the ancient Liturgy of St. James, this:

    “Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
    And with fear and trembling stand;
    Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
    For with blessing in His hand,
    Christ our God to earth descendeth,
    Our full homage to demand.
    King of kings, yet born of Mary,
    As of old on earth He stood,
    Lord of lords, in human vesture,
    In the body and the blood;
    He will give to all the faithful
    His own self for heav’nly food.
    Rank on rank the host of heaven
    Spreads its vanguard on the way,
    As the Light of light descendeth
    From the realms of endless day,
    That the pow’rs of hell may vanish
    As the darkness clears away.
    At His feet the six-winged seraph,
    Cherubim with sleepless eye,
    Veil their faces to the presence,
    As with ceaseless voice they cry:
    “Alleluia, Alleluia,
    Alleluia, Lord Most High!”

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  17. A friend who was a priest was strongly of the opinion that all things Christmas should be reserved for the 12 days starting on 25 December. Including cards, which would then arrive in early January.

    So imagine my surprise when I saw his return address in the corner of a purple envelope (purple is the color of vestments for Advent) in late December. I opened it, and it was an Advent card. “And they received Him not,” was the message printed in the card.

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  18. As a Catholic, I’ve taken to a “Happy Advent” greeting until Dec 24. Then twelves days of “Merry Christmas” greetings to follow. However, around January 2nd, the Christmas greeting starts to get really, really awkward.
    Sometime around January 4th, I usually just give it up 🙂

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  19. Advent and Christimas SEASON (through Twelfth Night) actually make a lot more sense than the way we’re doing it.

    Instead of a constant whirl of Xmas Parties, Xmas Shopping, Workload Peaking, Constant Forced Cheerfulness, Are We SMIIILING Today, HO! HO! HO! followed by One Day of pigging out and report for work at the usual time the next day — Four weeks of resting up followed by a twelve-day party!

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  20. Thanks, Chaplain Mike. And I am very grateful for the Internet Monk community and their deep appreciation for the liturgical calendar. It is a treasure for our spiritual formation.

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