The truth of the matter is that I have not read through the New Testament during advent and, as I alluded to at the beginning of the month, that is something that only I can and must take responsibility for. However, I have also been helped this month by the wise counsel of two friends in particular who reminded me that whilst there are times when we need to discipline ourselves that the scriptures were never intended to be read in isolation - they are a book for the community to be read in community.
Now, of course, that is not to say that we shouldn't spend time prayerfully reading and studying the scriptures alone, but it is to say that we also need to find ways of reading in community. I guess that one of the critiques of evangelicalism is that it is so 'personalised', but I have never seen it that way. In fact I often use the phrase (borrowed from my doctrine lecturer in college -' if it ain't broke don't fix it!') that: "Faith in Christ is personal but not private." In other words, we must respond as individuals to the Good News, but when we do this - only, of course, because of the Holy Spirit at work in us - we are called into the community of all Christ followers in all places, the church (not to be confused with the physical building and its people).
As we approach Christmas we are reminded more than ever of the 'personal but not private' nature of faith as we spend some time reflecting on Jesus: From a young age He clearly had a personal relationship with the Father, but this relationship was never something that remained only private - He grew and learned in community. And yet whilst He lived in and around community, family initially and later the disciples, He still took time out to re-charge and develop His personal relationship with God.
Now of course there is a danger in saying that faith is worked out in community, namely that the community can mis-interpret the scriptures based on an existing bias within that community; and this is something that, I'm sure, we have all done at some point. The problem comes when we elevate the community above the scriptures, meaning that we read into them rather than out of them. Jesus, of course, challenged those who did this, and His challenge remains for us today.
So one of my priorities for the new year is to get back into a bible reading group: it may mean travelling a bit, it may mean embracing newer forms of technology in order to join with an existing group, but whatever it takes it must be done because this journey, whilst personal, was never meant to be private.