Saturday, November 15, 2008

Advent Book Reviews V - Michael Mitton "A handful of light"

A Handful of Light: Daily Bible readings for Advent and Christmas by Michael Mitton begins with standard and uninspiring Fresh Expressions breast-beating as the author recounts his experiences of people who won’t come to “normal” church (whatever that is) and want to “do church” in a different way. Thankfully, the book settles down thereafter to a helpful series of daily Bible readings for Advent, following a well-orchestrated scheme that charts seasonal themes of lament, longing, annunciation, nativity, and illumination.

On each day, the author sets the reading appropriately in context and draws out interesting points of cultural and contemporary reference. There is some triteness: “I don’t suppose any one wing of the Church has got it completely right”; and some perhaps unintended comedy: “furious Esau, covered with hair and resentment”, and Mary lying in the back seat of a Mini heading from Inverness to Salisbury.

For the most part, however, Mitton is a resourceful and reliable guide: easygoing, but thoughtful and widely read. The book could be used profitably by individuals or groups.

Bethlehem Carols Unpacked: Creative ideas for Christmas carol services by Lucy Moore and Martyn Payne may be helpful to those who have come to dread another season of over-familiar Christmas hymns and carols. Based on the BibleLands Bethlehem Carol Sheet, successive chapters consider (or, to use the authors’ over-used word, “unpack”) the history and theology of some of the most popular carols.

An appreciation of these could lead to a reappropriation of some very well-worn material, but this worthwhile exercise is marred by occasional superficiality, and frequent recourse to the cliché: within three lines of an exposition of “O come, all ye faithful”, the authors tell us that consumerism has taken over Christmas “in our day and age”, but the carol “pulls no punches”, and goes “straight to the heart” of the mystery.

“Creative ideas” for exploring the carols further range from helpful dramatisations to buttock-clenchingly embarrassing exercises involving pebbles and nutshells.