Advent for Everyone: Matthew, N. T. Wright. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019.
Summary: An Advent devotional with four weeks of daily readings and commentary by a noted New Testament scholar and pastor.
N. T. Wright has published a whole series of “…for Everyone” books including ones for each of the three years in the lectionary cycle. This focuses around the Advent readings for Year A in the Gospel of Matthew. The devotional includes daily readings for the four weeks of Advent, with translations of Matthew by the author, brief commentary, and a question or two for reflection.
I found this a rich set of devotional readings. At the core of each devotional is real commentary. That is, Wright concisely sets forward the meaning and relevance of the day’s text, rather than simply sharing an “inspiring thought that may or may not have any connection to the reading.
In this review, I will share one example, a brief summary from one of each week’s readings, that may give you a flavor for the whole:
Week 1: A Time to Watch:
First Sunday of Advent: The unexpected visit: Matthew 24:36-44
Wright reminds us from a personal experience of what it means to have unexpected visitors. He then deals with this apocalyptic text from Matthew and its call for watchfulness for the Lord’s coming. He speaks of the dire prophecy, fulfilled at least initially, with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He observes that the one taken, one left refers to those taken by soldiers to their deaths and those left untouched. Interestingly, the church fled Jerusalem before its fall, recognizing what was coming. Wright urges us to similar watchfulness in our own “turbulent and dangerous times.” And so we are invited into the beginning of this season of watching for the Lord’s Advent.
Week 2: A Time to Repent:
Thursday: The Parable of the Clean and Unclean: Matthew 15:10-20
Beginning with one of my favorite stories of Pooh and the Heffalump, he talks about Pooh’s concern that the jar of honey set to lure the Heffalump was real honey all the way down. From this he moves to the issue of purity and the challenge of Jesus to religious leaders who are pure on the outside and corrupt inwardly. The invitation is one to search our own hearts. For what need we repent and ask the coming Lord to cleanse in our lives? Are we pure all the way down?
Week 3: A Time to Heal:
Wednesday: The Raising of the Little Girl: Matthew 9:18-26
Every culture has hygiene practices and for good reasons. These enable us to avoid disease. For the Jews, you avoided a woman having her period or any other bleeding, and you did not touch dead bodies. If so, you went through ritual cleansing. In this passage, Jesus both permits a bleeding woman to touch him and takes the hand of a dead girl. Instead of Jesus being rendered unclean, the woman is healed, the dead girl comes to life. Here is one more powerful than whatever may pollute our lives, in body or mind. What might he touch and heal in us?
Week 4: A Time to Love:
Monday: Loving Your Enemies: Matthew 5:38-48.
Wright observes that Israel is a chosen people, yet overrun with enemies. He shows how Jesus offers “a new sort of justice, a creative, healing restorative justice.” It means a refusal to answer violence with violence. It means to go beyond the judgment of a shirt to giving one’s cloak, shaming the adversary with one’s virtual nakedness. It means to go beyond the mile Romans could impress one to carry a load, going a second mile, gratis. Wright asks with regard to our own enemies, “How does his teaching on reflecting the generous God and defusing violence speak to you?”
Wright’s devotionals focus on the wonder of this Lord who has come and is coming, and how we might watch for and prepare for that coming. His incisive commentary and questions are designed not just to engender warm feelings of “comfort and joy” but rather to call us into the deeper work of watching, repenting, longing for healing, and embracing the generous love of God.
This review may come late for this season. I’d encourage you to buy this volume, and the companions for Year B (Advent for Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles) and Year C (Advent for Everyone: Luke). Then you will have them for the full lectionary cycle. Yesterday, we lit the fourth Advent candle in our church, looking forward to the lighting of the Christ candle, the one who is the light of the world. These readings helped intensify my joy in what his first coming means and my longing for his return. The Lord grant you the same!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review e-galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.