Advent Message
This season of Advent draws our attention to Biblical prophecies of the First and Second Comings of Our Lord. In particular, the Second Sunday in Advent is popularly known as "Bible Sunday", with reference to the words of the Prayer Book collect:

"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The words are carefully chosen: we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures not for for their own sake, but with an ulterior motive in mind - to embrace the hope of everlasting life given to us in Jesus Christ. When we read the Bible we look not just to the record of past events, but to the hope of future events; we look not just at what God has done, but also at what God will do; we look not just for the completed story of other people’s lives, but for the unfolding story of our own lives. The Bible for us is not so much a picture as a window - we look not at it, but through it: the Bible is always directing us beyond the Bible.

This view of scripture is essentially and characteristically Christian - it goes right back to the beginnings of the Christian Church and is unique to it.

There was a time in the very early Church, when "Holy Scriptures" meant simply what we now call the Old Testament, for the obvious reason that the New Testament had not yet been written, or at least, not yet canonised. When St Paul talks about "the scriptures" in the reading from the Epistle to the Romans appointed for the Second Sunday in Advent, he can only mean the Old Testament.

So there was a time when the Christian Church and the Jewish Synagaogue shared the same Holy Scriptures: what distinguished the two groups was the different ways in which they read and interpreted the same texts.

For the Jews, the Old Testament, and more particularly the Torah, the Law of Moses, was the ultimate revelation of God which said everything and said it finally. Nothing, not one jot or tittle, could ever be changed - eating pork was wrong, it always had been wrong, and it always would be wrong, in this world and the next. The Rabbis even speak of the Torah as the image of God and the blueprint of the universe. So for the Jews, it was enough to study the Torah simply to learn more about the Torah: that was a sufficent end in itself.

The Christian approach was very different, and must have seemed to Jewish eyes horribly heretical: the Christians did not regard the the scriptures as the ultimate revelation of God, but merely as a preparation for the ultimate revelation of God, a revelation which came not in the form of a book or of a set of words, but in the form of a person, in the form of God’s own Son made man.

The Jews regarded the scriptures as a self-contained, closed-circuit system, in which the meaning of one part of the text could only be interpreted by reference to another part of the text. The Christians made the radical claim - deeply disturbing to the Jews - that the scriptures were in themselves incomplete, that they needed to be read and understood in the light of external events: past events, like the incarnation and death and resurrection of Christ; present events, like the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and future events - the Triumphant Return of Christ to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. And so the Christian Church made also the radical claim - again, deeply disturbing to the Jews - that the apparent meaning of scripture was not necessarily absolute and final, but was to some degree provisional, to some degree awaiting further developments. So for example, eating pork was not necessarily absolutely and eternally wrong.

Even if Christians and Jews revered the same holy texts of the Old Testament, their approach to those texts was so profoundly different that their paths could only diverge.

There has sometimes been a temptation for Christians to fall back into a Jewish mode of reading the scriptures - that is to say, to slip back into treating the scriptures as being complete in themselves. Some people, and not just the Protestant Fundamentalists, seem to imagine, in defiance of the historical facts, that the Bible created the Church rather than that the Church created the Bible. Some people, and not just the Protestant Fundamentalists, seem to imagine, that our primary knowledge of Christ derives from the written record of his earthly life, rather than our living experience of the Risen Christ in his Church. Needless to say, that is not the catholic approach to the scriptures.

During the season of Advent, we look forward to the Second Coming of Christ and to the transformation of the world. So during this season of Advent above all, we should read the Bible, looking not at it as at an unchanging picture, but looking through it as through a window, waiting for new light to dawn.

- Fr Richard Bowyer, The Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2009