Longing, Waiting, Believing

Reflections for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany

Rodney Holder

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Content

In the excitement of the weeks before Christmas, it is all too easy to overlook the fact that Christians have, down the centuries, regarded Advent as a season of penitence, a time of prayer and preparation for the great feast of the birth of Jesus, just as Lent is a season of preparation for Easter, when we remember his death and resurrection.

This book of daily Bible readings and reflective comment covers the weeks from 1 December through to Epiphany on 6 January. As well as considering the well-known events of the nativity story, it looks back to those who prepared the way - the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament and John the Baptist and Mary the mother of Jesus in the New Testament. The book also explores the traditional Advent focus on the 'four last things', death, judgement, heaven and hell. Rodney Holder shows how these sombre themes have their place in the build-up to the celebrations, because of another historic aspect of Advent: reflecting on the second coming of Jesus, when he will return, as Lord and King rather than helpless baby, to set the world to rights.

Introducing Dr Rodney Holder

One of my heroes is John Polkinghorne, who was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge before training for ordination in the Church of England. Polkinghorne is fond of saying that science and theology bear a cousinly relationship to one another because they are both truth-seeking. Another hero is Georges Lemaitre, a great cosmologist, committed Christian, a Roman Catholic priest who was 'Father of the Big Bang theory'. Lemaitre once said, 'There were two ways of arriving at the truth. I decided to follow them both.' He meant, like Polkinghorne, science and theology.

Another hero of mine is the German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer's theology was forged in the tumultuous years of the Nazi tyranny in Germany. An opponent of the regime, he lived out his own central tenet of 'responsible action in obedience to Christ' to the point of martyrdom. He brings many insights to our journey of faith.

Not every passage of scripture lends itself to a scientific approach, just as not every question we might want to ask is a scientific question. Whereas science is concerned with the processes of nature, theology is concerned with the much more fundamental questions of human existence. Why are we here? Where are we heading? What are the purpose and meaning of life? What is God's plan for the world and for our own individual lives? Nevertheless, there are many areas of interaction between science and theology and these disciplines can be mutually supportive.

My scientific mindset leads me to ask, when appropriate, 'What happened? What are the facts relating to this passage of scripture? What evidence do we have?' I have a profound respect for biblical scholarship, just as I have for scientific research. It seems to me that biblical scholarship aids our understanding, and hence our devotions, immensely, not least by helping us understand the context in which the various books of the Bible were written.

My prayer, as we travel together this Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, is that our longing for Christ will be fulfilled, our waiting for him rewarded and our believing in him strengthened: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (see Ephesians 3:18-19).

Back in September 2012 Dr Rodney Holder wrote some Bible reading notes entitled 'Our Creator God' for New Daylight that created a sensation of thanks and praise from New Daylight readers around the world. Rodney Holder, who is the former Course Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St Edmund's College, Cambridge, brought his love and knowledge of science and his faith together in these highly informative notes that many readers enjoyed considerably.

Following this success, Rodney was invited to bring that same approach to the traditional Advent themes and readings. The result is Longing, Waiting, Believing, our Advent book for this year, which provides honest and revealing insights from Rodney's life experience plus insights from his three heroes, people who have most influenced him in his science and faith walk.

Listen to an interview with Dr Rodney Holder

Read Dr Holder's guest blog in Science and Belief

Available on Kindle

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Author info

The Revd Dr Rodney Holder has recently retired as Course Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St Edmund's College, Cambridge. He has written many articles and a number of books on the dialogue between science and religion, including The Heavens Declare: Natural Theology and the Legacy of Karl Barth (Templeton Press, 2012). He contributed a highly popular series of readings to New Daylight (September 2012) on 'Our Creator God'.

Reviews

'The problem with Christmas is', we so often hear, 'that it starts in September and finishes on Boxing Day!' and in so doing we lose much of the wonder of Advent and do not even consider Epiphany.

Rodney Holder provides an antidote for the rush to the stable at Bethlehem by giving directions for a daily journey (along the pattern of a Lent reflection) from Advent, through Christmas to Epiphany helping his readers keep all Twelve Days of Christmas and add expectation to Advent.

The journey is both about the first coming of Christ and his promised return and so we travel across the breadth of the Bible. Beginning with the Patriarchs and the Prophets, followed by the Forerunner and the Nativity and on to the cost of future discipleship, the author helpfully leads the reader on a personal journey to not only Bethlehem but to a full life lived in the light of the incarnate Christ.

In this journey we stop to drink not only at the Scriptures but also reflect on the geography, history and science of faith. The reader will be encouraged to explore some of the writings of others quoted in the book, and this may well provide fuel for the further journey into the New Year.

Each section is set out with a scripture passage, a reflection upon that with possible personal action, and a short prayer time. These are enhanced by suggestions of pieces of art to contemplate and music upon which to meditate. They would make good use as a complete 'Quiet Time' for this busy season. Written for individuals to read the book can nonetheless be used as a basis for a group study for which concise pertinent questions for discussion are provided.

With its gently challenging words it inspired me to travel a little more closely to Christ over this season and I will be providing my ministry team members with copies of the book so that their journey may be enriched as well.

Revd Andrew Dotchin

Book details

  • ISBN: 9781841017563
  • Published: 19 September 2014
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 208
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