2015 Advent Reading Challenge

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For the past few years, I have committed to read through the entire New Testament over the season of Advent. This year, I extend an invitation for you to join me.*

To read the New Testament in approximately four weeks means tackling large chunks of scripture each day. For some, the task may feel overwhelming. Going through the New Testament so quickly is quite a large commitment to make and a lofty goal to set, but it is a practice I have found to be incredibly good for my soul. Allow me to offer a few reasons why:

1. Reading through the New Testament during Advent helps me prepare for the celebration of Christmas in a unique way.

There is great hype right now for the upcoming release of the new episode in the Star Wars saga. In anticipation for the movie, many fans are taking time to re-watch the preceding movies, engaging once again with the Star Wars universe and story. In many ways, reading through the New Testament over Advent takes on the same attitude of eagerness and anticipation found in those Star Wars fans. In the eagerness to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, what better way to prepare than by reading His story?

2. Reading through the New Testament during Advent helps me examine and simply my life.

Advent is a season focused on preparing for the coming of Emmanuel. It is both a beginning and an end to the Church’s pilgrimage through the life of Christ – a time to recall the world’s expectation and longing for the first coming of Jesus Christ into our humanity, and a time to anticipate his second coming in final victory.

Likewise, the season of Advent is a time for simplicity, discipline, and examination. Each year as I consider taking on this rigorous reading plan, I immediately think, “Do I have time to sit down and read x number of chapters from the Bible each day?” However, when I honestly examine my schedule, I always find that the time is there.

The real problem is a matter of how I spend and prioritize it.

For me, each section of reading averages to about 30 minutes per day. A half an hour is the equivalent to one episode of a sitcom or the time it takes for my morning Facebook routine. Perhaps rather than asking, “Do I have the time?” a better question I need to ask is, “What might I cut out of my life in order to make space to focus on God’s story over the next four weeks?” Often I find that whatever I sacrificed was time misspent in the first place.

3. Reading through the New Testament helps me not miss the forest for the trees.

One pushback I have gotten regarding such an intense reading plan is that tackling broad portions of the New Testament is less “devotional.” I’ve been told, “I don’t get anything out of reading large chunks of scripture. I don’t feel like it speaks to me.” In no way do I want to downplay the study of small portions of scripture. Careful and intricate study has important benefits to properly understanding scripture. However, I have to be careful that my reading of scripture doesn’t always center on me – my understanding, my experience, my conviction. Reading large portions of scripture allows me to set my own agenda aside and instead be caught up in the grand narrative of God.

For me, Advent is a time when I stop trying to examine each tree in order to step back and marvel in the beauty of God’s forest. In viewing large sections of scripture, I begin to see overarching themes that I sometimes miss. The repetition of certain words and ideas jump out at me. The continuity of God’s story and the narrative of salvation become clearer. Sometimes it takes a couple of days (or more) for my eyes and mind to adjust, but the end result is always beautiful and refreshing.

John Wesley believed that Scripture reading was profitable not only for those who already enjoy personal relationship with God and want to know him better, but also for those who want to come to know him for the first time. This Advent, perhaps you are one who wants to know God better. Perhaps you are one who really wants to meet God for the first time. Either way, I invite you to accept the Advent Reading Challenge with me. May it reveal wisdom and grace, and show us the path to true salvation.

* Below is a reading plan I developed that follows this year’s Advent dates. Rather than reading straight through the New Testament, this plan begins each new week with one of the Gospels and then ends the week in other sections of the New Testament. The structure is not for everyone, but I offer it for anyone who wishes to join me on the journey.

1 Sunday, November 29 Matthew 1-10
2 Monday, November 30 Matthew 11-20
3 Tuesday, December 1 Matthew 21-28
4 Wednesday, December 2 Romans 1-11
5 Thursday, December 3 Romans 12-16
6 Friday, December 4 Galatians, Ephesians
7 Saturday, December 5 Hebrews
8 Sunday, December 6 Luke 1-9
9 Monday, December 7 Luke 10-19
10 Tuesday, December 8 Luke 20-24
11 Wednesday, December 9 Acts 1-8
12 Thursday, December 10 Acts 9-15
13 Friday, December 11 Acts 16-28
14 Saturday, December 12 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus
15 Sunday, December 13 Mark 1-8
16 Monday, December 14 Mark 9-16
17 Tuesday, December 15 James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter
18 Wednesday, December 16 1 Corinthians
19 Thursday, December 17 2 Corinthians
20 Friday, December 18 Philippians, Colossians
21 Saturday, December 19 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Philemon
22 Sunday, December 20 John 1-8
23 Monday, December 21 John 9-17
24 Tuesday, December 22 John 18-21
25 Wednesday, December 23 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude
26 Thursday, December 24 Revelation

Image attribution: mizar_21984 / Thinkstock

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Jonathan serves with his wife, Faith, and daughter, Audrey, as the director of student ministries for World Gospel Mission at Asbury University. Jonathan is also an adjunct professor of worship at both Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary, and assists with musical leadership and worship design in the Offerings Community of First United Methodist Church, Lexington, KY. In 2013, he received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL. Jonathan is the author of 12 Days of Christmas Sermons, and co-author with Jason Jackson and Teddy Ray of Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Tradition, both published by Seedbed.

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