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.