Advent and Christmas readings

 I know we have already traveled into the Advent season, but it is never too late to give seasonal books, to commit to reflecting a bit on the Meaning Of It All, or to find a good Advent devotional for these increasingly dark days.  Happily, with the vital twelve days and Christmastide and the celebration of bright Epiphany, we've got weeks and weeks of this spiritual season yet to go.  



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0800697332b.jpgChristmas: Festival of Incarnation  Donald Heinz (Fortress) $25.00  What a delight to hold such a handsome, gold-engraved hardback, and what a delight that it is so expansive, imaginative, and interesting.  I love this "history of the development of the idea" and the sociology of our (varied) lived practices and while he cites knowingly the scholars like Durkheim and others who explore the meaning of rituals, this isn't dry or distant (nor is it overly eccentric or oddly speculative.)  What a glorious bit of writing, covering the way the feast and festival has been celebrated, honored, dishonored, resisted and reconfigured.  His emphasis on the drama of the event (and how global capitalism and the subsequent commodification of even religious rituals) is very important.  I found his insights about the strict Calvinist resistance to such festivals historically and intellectually stimulating, and a very helpful expose of stupidity in my own chosen tradition.  Alas, folk will have their celebrations and rituals regardless, so the celebrations were turned outward, leading inevitably to the crass secularization and eventual secularization and commercialization of the holiday.  This is astute and rewarding stuff, important, insightful, glorious, semi-academic and exceptionally interesting ruminations.  It is, I think, one of the best books of the year!
And, I'm not alone.  Listen to what the great Robert Bellah writes:

Another book about Christmas?  Yes, but this is the one we really need.  Heinz tells us the deep story of Christmas all the way back...he is more concerned with helping us understand the joy in elaborations that seem far from the original meaning that he is with chiding the innovators. So this is a book that simultaneously deepens our theology while widening our sympathy.
Or, from Kristin Swenson, author of the very fun Bible Babel:

With this book Heinz gives readers front row seats and a backstage pass to the great drama that is Christmas.  Readers get  tantalizing inside information about the script, characters, set, and music for a story that has moved audiences for two thousand years.  In the process, Heinz brings the implications of Incarnation alive in new ways and treats us to a glimpse of how Christmas will continue to be richly relevant and meaningful in the years to come.



Yes, this is thoughtful, entertaining, and wise.  And important, I think, for those who are up for the slowly developed serious argument it makes.   As Walter Brueggemann puts it, Christmas: Festival of Incarnation is "for those who want to rethink and re-practice Christmas in a consumer culture."   We've got quite an "evangelical pageant among multiple temptations and distortions" on our hands and it seems that this Lutheran clergyman and Professor of Religious Studies (who goes ga ga over Christmas, by the way) may be one of the better thinkers to help us through it.  Highly recommended.  Here is a video interview with Don Heinz over at the Fortress Press website.  Enjoy him there, and come on back and order!

9780664234294.jpgGod Is In the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas  Dietrich Bonhoeffer (WJK) $12.95  Thanks to Eric Metaxas' spectacular, recent book Bonhoeffer there is quite a renewed interest in the brave German pastor.   It is good to see a new book like this, knowing these are solid and poetic, uplifting messages. Some of these 41 devotions have been around only in other places (in his letters or sermons) and it is gift to have them together in one handy paperback.  As Scot McKnight writes, "These Advent and Christmas reflections of Bonhoeffer flew from his prison cell, flung open the doors of hope, and sailed heavenward as heart-wrenching prayers, prayers from a condemned man, prayers from a hopeful man, prayers from a man who embodied what it means to pray 'May your kingdom come.'  Very useful as a daily devotional, with short readings, Bible texts and prayers. 

God Is With us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
  edited by Greg Pennoyer and
9781557255419.jpg Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete) $29.95  You may know of this as we've promoted this before---one of our most popular Advent books in the last two years!  What a handsome, large-sized, elegant and eloquent set of reflections by the likes of poet Luci Shaw and pastor Eugene Peterson and writer Kathleen Norris.  The artwork is lovely and enhances the text nicely.  You should know that this emerged from the glorious pages of our best literary journal, Image, a mature faith-based quarterly of literature and art and criticism.  It has some nice touches, including a ribbon maker and glossy pages, making this a truly commendable book to own and share.


The Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations  Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennen w/ illustrations by Willem Hart (Dordt College Press)  $8.00  I've long said this is the best bit of Biblical study I've ever seen leading up to the large claims of the gospel as the fulfillment of the aching promises of the Hebrew Scriptures.  All four authors are friends, scholars, activists and leaders I trust to take us into the deepest political context of the Bible and its grand hope.  Yet, despite the themes of social injustice and the critique of false gods and new calls to radical discipleship, there is pastoral care and good sense here.  It is my favorite seasonal study and commend it loudly.   Here is a brief (and very moving) homily Brian Walsh preached recently which is both prophetic and pastoral and gives you a sense of his views (although there is substantial exegesis in the book, making it exceptionally substantive and educational.) The Advent of Justice, by the way, is out of print (pray that it gets reprinted by somebody next year) and these are the last ones anywhere.  

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas  (Orbis) $16.00  This continues to be the most respected and most-often commented upon resource we offer this time of year.  It was first put out by the short-lived genius publishing project Plough (of the Hutterite community) and includes so many great writers it is hard to describe. The excerpts are short, pithy, yet substantive and often beautiful.  From  C.S. Lewis to Henri Nouwen, from Madeleine L'Engle to Dorothy Day, from Jurgen Moltmann to Martin Luther there are writers classic and serious.  Brennen Manning's great "Shipwrecked at the Stable" piece from one of his early books that inspired the 1988 Bruce Cockburn song by that name is here, too.  Read these selections over and over!

handel.jpgHandel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People Calvin R. Stapert (Eerdmans) $14.99  Not a few of us have been longing for a good book to guide us through the music and lyrics and theology of Handel's beloved Messiah  and this is it!  Remarkably insightful, very informed, quite accessible, this will enhance your listening, enhance your season, enhance your life as this appreciation deepens down into y our heart.  Jeremy Begbie (to whom we should listen) says "this is destined to be a classic guide to this classic work."  Want good news?  Messiah is one of the Western world's great treasures and it is such a gift that it is done to the great glory of God in Christ.  Read this book to understand it better.  Dr. Stapert is professor emeritus of music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and a much-respected Bach scholar. A truly great book. 

Saint Nicholas Joe Wheeler (Nelson) $12.00  This little paperback with French-folded cover is part of a series of light introductions to various historical figures.  Recently, the "Christian Encounters" series did one on Saint Francis and one on Saint Patrick so this made perfect sense.  There aren't many biographies of the humble and miraculous defender of God's truth and "the patron saint of practically everybody."  Wheeler is a great storyteller making this fun read.  I am certain you will learn something new, and enjoy knowing these inspiring facts about the real, old Saint Nic.

ResizeImageHandler.ashx.jpgKneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas Ann Weems (WJK) $16.95  We're happy to announce that the popular Ann Weems' Christmas and Lent books (and her moving Psalms of Lament) have been reissued with bright new covers in celebration of her new poetry collection, From Advent's Alleluia to Easter's Morning Light.  She makes us think and her words are, in the phrase of one reviewer, "powerful, poignant, and profound."

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation  Luci Shaw (Eerdmans) $15.00  Ms Shaw is perhaps our all time favorite poet (and a fan of the bookstore, no less.)  This isn't new, but we always feature it on our Advent display tables, and somebody always comments on how they so love this or that piece.  Not too many poets get the back-cover endorsements of Scott Cairns, Julia Kasdorf and John Leax.  She is a Writer-in-Residence at Regent College in Vancouver, we suggest these as devotional aids and as true art.

4126113115_0ae24d02a2_m.jpgThe Advent Conspiracy book and DVD  Chris Seay, Rick McKinley & Greg Holder  (Zondervan) $29.99  I have already done a whole post on this (see my "black Friday" ruminations here), and we are so very glad for this sensible, deeply Christian, up-beat call to love fully, spend less, give more, and love all.  The book is solid, the DVD a bit contemporary, with these young, hip pastors and clever, fast-paced film style, and cool footage; the whole thing is just so, so important.  Start a local branch of the conspiracy that believes that "Christmas Can Still Change the World."  Beats griping about commercialism or debating how to "keep Christ in Christmas."  (By the way, my friend David Dark did a tweet the other day wishing that "more stores would keep Christ out of Christmas so He wouldn't be connected to such hyper-consumerism."  Ha.)  The Advent Conspiracy is the best!  Watch the trailer here and see if you aren't eager for this fresh, wholesome, Christ-centered, missional approach. Call some friends, sing some carols and watch this thing!  You'll be glad.

The Christmas Countdown:
Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for Families

Product5473_Photo1.jpg Margie J. Harding (Paraclete) $15.99  It has been a good number of years since we've seen a new book like this, helping busy families with easy-to-use devotional readings and ideas for prayers, music, food, family activities.  Margie is a mother of five (and a grandmother of nine) so she knows about the need for family traditions and ways to help family be the "forming center" during this time of year. A little of this great book is reflective and full of meaningful ruminations while other portions include games and fun stuff, even some worksheet puzzles and such.  We love Paraclete, a deeply spiritual Episcopalian community and we stock all this books.  Glad for this one this year!  Includes suggestions for Christmas eve, Christmas day, and into Christmastide.  Joy to the world!




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