Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam: An Advent Study for Adults
by James W. Moore
With Questions, Prayer, and Focus for the Week Devotions by Pamela Dilmore
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013 and 2015 (143 pages).
The holiday season brings a frenzy of activity that is marked by commercialism and trinkets. We may experience the expectations as a burden. This Advent study is designed to help us regain a more faith-filled Christian perspective as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We are encouraged to spend time focusing on relationships rather than things. As Moore puts it, “If you want to express your love and appreciation to God, then the best way to do it is to love God’s children” (16). Stories of faith and generosity shown by children and adults are woven into this thoughtful book with a conversational tone.
Pamela Dilmore’s biblical work in the reflection section for each week complements Moore’s insights and contemporary parables that form the foundation of each chapter. This book is designed for use in daily quiet time related to the theme for the week. A devotional reading is included with a Bible passage and creative questions with space to write a response.
Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam invites us to explore, among other themes, the ways that “Christ frees us from the prison of selfishness” (45-46). We reflect, for example, on the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, who was raised in a prosperous household but chose a simpler life of service and started a movement. He recognized that “it is in giving that we receive” (46). Another section lifts up the truth that “love is more powerful than money” (78-79). These messages help us to put things in perspective.
Moore writes movingly about Muhammad Ali, the three-time world-boxing champion. Ali was on top of the world in terms of material possessions and fame. But he realized that all that he accumulated still left him feeling empty and really amounted to, as he put it, nothing (page 74). Ali has found fulfillment in recent years by becoming a philanthropist. He established a center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, to help people develop their abilities and realize their full potential. The Muhammad Ali Center is based on the principles of confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality (page 75). People who are encouraged and empowered may discover they have more gifts and abilities to share with others, bringing joy to themselves and their community.
Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam offers a penetrating analysis of the classic tale A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (pages 106-107). Moore treats it from a theological point of view and relates it to present-day Christians. It is easy to point in judgment at the self-centered greediness and lack of compassion shown by Ebenezer Scrooge. Instead, we need to recognize ourselves in the character of Scrooge. Moore writes, “This is our story. Deep down inside, deeper than some of us even realize, we all relate to Ebenezer Scrooge. We all need help… to be converted from selfishness to love” (107). There is hope for us to be given a second chance, to show thoughtfulness and kindness in the true spirit of Christmas.
The authors missed an opportunity to speak against the conventional American assumption that the best Christmas includes an excessive display of wealth, such as expensive electric light displays on home exteriors. We do not need to spend money on a lot of decorations or a perfect-looking home to enjoy time with family and friends. Putting a halt to the extra work and expenses that we undertake for festivities would help reduce some unnecessary stress and strain in the holiday season. Moore’s lighter touch, coupled with Dilmore’s reflection questions, may still help people find a balance between bedlam and Bethlehem in this special season.
A church-wide Advent study can be an important part of your year-round stewardship plan. Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam is approachable for people who are not ready to eliminate their Christmas lights, but still want to express faith and generosity at Christmas. This group of age-appropriate studies provides a wide variety of ways for people to interact with these themes that affect each of us. Church leaders may highlight this opportunity for time well spent in drawing closer to Christ and our community of faith during a stressful time of year. The engaging accompanying guides for children by Brittany Sky and youth by Mike Poteet make this an excellent churchwide study during the Sundays of the Advent and Christmas season.
The Rev. Rosanna Anderson is the Associate Director of Stewardship at Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.