FEASTING ON THE WORD ADVENT COMPANION: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship. Edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. x + 195 Pages.
As I write this the worship team from my congregation and I have been working on plans for Advent. Advent is, as any pastor or music minister knows, is a difficult season to plan for. There is this heavy cloud of the commercialized Christmas vision hanging over it. The texts and hymns for the season tend to be dark, while the people want to sing Joy to the World and Jingle Bells. Advent is supposed to be a season of contemplation, reflection, even penitence. Since it is a new season for many Protestants we're not really sure what to do with it. For lectionary preachers, and I count myself among them, there comes a point when you feel like you need to turn to something else for inspiration. You are ready to try something new.
Many preachers, especially lectionary preachers already know about the Feasting on the Word series of commentaries, edited by David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, a series that is now complete. Westminster John Knox has begun to build upon that foundation with a second series focusing on the Gospels, appropriately named Feasting on the Gospels (edited by Cynthia Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson). Building further on that series, Kimberly Bracken Long, Associate Professor of Worship at Colombia Theological Seminary edits the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion, several volumes of which are now in press.
Now added to these helpful sets of volumes is this Advent Companion. This book, edited by Bartlett, Brown Taylor, and Bracken Long provides preachers and worship leaders with an alternative set of texts and materials for the Advent season. The editors have chosen alternative readings from both Old Testament and New Testament, and then provided the four-fold commentary found in Feasting on the Word -- Reflections from theological, pastoral, exegetical, and homiletical perspectives. Some of the materials are drawn from the other two series, while some materials are new. These texts allow for the development of new themes and conversations for Advent.
In addition to text and commentary, there are complete worship services taking us through Christmas Day, including advent candle lighting readings. These services include song/hymn suggestions to match the theme for the day, and children sermons for each Sunday (should your congregation have them). For those communions, like my own, who have weekly communion there are Eucharistic prayers for Advent and Christmas. In addition, there is a Service of Hope and Healing, what many call a Blue Christmas service.
Finally, the Companion provides a set of four midweek services, The editors note that these services are "designed for use during a brief mid-week gathering." Each service is organized around two texts, from each Testament, There are opening and closing prayers/calls to worship, a homily (which is provided for in the book), along with prayers and confession. There are also suggestions for hymns and songs, should one want to include them. The Gospel readings come from John and are paired with readings from Isaiah, so that the focus can be on "preparing the way." One could easily read the homilies and provide time for silent meditation upon them.
Once again the people at WJK have provided congregations with a useful text that can assist thoughtful preaching and vibrant worship. If you've not decided what to do with Advent yet, I would recommend picking it up now. As for me and my church -- well, I think we'll use it next year!