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A Child Is Born: Meditations for Advent and Christmas

by J. Barrie Shepherd
- a book review

J. Barrie Shepherd, a Presbyterian pastor, is author of dozens of books most of which are deeply devotional in nature.  The book reviewed here, though it is an earlier work and available primarily in used editions, is none-the-less, a classic.  It is also appropriate to the season.  A Child Is Born is an elegantly written prayer diary, created in the tradition of John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer.  Made especially for Advent, it contains thirty morning and evening prayers, each full of hope and help.  The lectionary readings chosen for each day are a carefully orchestrated cadence of Old and New Testament passages.  Following each day’s entry is a blank page for readers to pen their own prayers and reflections.

Amid the frantically extroverted pace of the Christmas season this volume is a shining gift. “Advent we call this season—which means ‘Coming’—because in all the busy comings and goings, over the next few weeks, we will be remembering how you came among us long ago at Bethlehem and how—in your good time—you will come again to bring all to fulfillment.”

Shepherd (who at the time he wrote this book was pastor of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church in Swarthmore, PA) offers us a thoughtful means of centering, and considering the continuity of our lives in the context of Christ’s birth.  His fugue of reflection, query and petition brings to life issues from both our inner and outer journeys.  Hope, waiting, making inner space in our busy lives, owning both our personal darkness and light, offering sanctuary to the suffering and acknowledging the unfolding miracle and mystery of advent are intertwining themes.

Shot through each page is an invitation to be more deeply aware of God’s presence.

“I would guess, Lord God That most people know your presence, sense at least a momentary touch of Holy Spirit at some time in their lives.  But we write it off as indigestion, or an excess of emotion. In the cold clear light of morning we look back and say, ‘How could I be so foolish?’ so we spend our days in shallows, fearful to launch out, to entrust ourselves to mystery.”


Practicing the presence of God, while celebrating the apogee of history with traditional symbols of love and affection, is a life-giving anchor in our cultural sea of consumerism.

“And your call to me these days, Lord God, is not so much to wallow in nostalgia, to break out in a stubborn rash of generosity and gift giving, to get all caught up in rituals with candles, incense and the like You invite me to entrust myself, to place my story within yours, to set my future firm beside the manger where your Son may claim it for his own.”

A Child Is Born focuses our attention on the pattern God has woven for each of us.  With our increased self-awareness we are faithfully invited into a deeper openness to Christ’s perpetual coming.  This poignant, dandy, meaningful book reminds me of nothing so much as the affirmation of Julian of Norwich that “all will be well, all will be well and all manner of things will be well.” This is a book to which I shall return regularly.

Linda Kusse-Wolfe, reviewer


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