One of my traditions is entering Advent late. The liturgical season still hasn’t fully shaped my sensibilities and our work schedule—doing a few out of the store events at the end of November and coping with retail land the weekend of Thanksgiving—seems to keep me from entering the new Christian year with much gusto until mid-December.
I was so glad, and a bit chagrined, when my Sunday school teacher this week (my own 29 year old, Stephanie) quoted from the stunning forward by Lauren Winner in Bobby Gross’ very nice book Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (IVP; $17.00.) It is a passage I’ve commended before, and strikes me deeply every time I’ve read it. Gross’ introduction to and devotional guide through the Christian seasons is a gem of a resource and we continue to be glad for the time he spent with us last year when the book first came out.
So, here’s my odd-ball tradition: offering a list of books for fellow slackers, late-to-the-game, well-intended, “spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” slow-poke, Advent lovers. Better late than never.
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Expecting: Devotions for Advent Scott Hoezee (Faith Alive) $4.29 These wonderfully written, short devotions (coupled with a prayer or journalling idea) were first published by the Christian Reformed Church’s Homelink program. Hoezee is the director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary and is as fine a wordsmith as you’ll find in any pulpit anywhere. Lovely, insightful, offering a robust Biblical vision, offered nicely in short readings.
Illuminate: An Advent Experience Paul Sheneman (Beacon Hill) $9.99 I have been so impressed with the recent small group resources coming from the edgy Nazarenes at Beacon Hill and Barefoot. This is a great devotional to use daily–complete with prayers and a Psalm and verses to look up and quotes from ancient hymns–but it is ideally used with a candle lighting experience. Yup, this is nearly a postmodern, family, Advent-wreath guide, with suggestions for service projects and justice work, ideas for storytelling, creative ways to let your light shine as you are illuminated by the light of Christ. There is a link to the the cyberhymnal website for each old hymn or carol, too, so you can sing along. This is a handsome little book, well-designed with superb, solid content. Highly recommended. Get your candles out! Here is a beautifully done short video clip reciting part of John 1 (and note how they also use a child’s voice) over a match lighting a candle which serves as a trailer for the book. Neat.
Behold: Cultivating Attentiveness in the Season of Advent Pamela C. Hawkins
(Upper Room) $14.00 Any book that starts with a quote from Quaker mystic Douglas Steere has my attention. Certainly attentiveness is central to the spiritual life, and the very title of this book—behold!—evokes (if you hear it well) images of contemplative spirituality, inviting us to a slower, deeper pace of life. Here, in this invitation to a prayerful Advent, we are offered daily meditations as well as a weekly prayer practice such as praying with images, silent prayer, using prayer beads, compline and such. There is a good communal conversation about the book going on at www.upperroom.org/adventstudy, too, if that would be helpful. Recommended for personal devotions or group use. (A guide for leaders is included, adapting the materiel for small groups.) Be attentive to your expectancy, preparation, faith, and God’s promises. As always, Upper Room offers exquisite, good stuff for pondering.
The Journey: Walking the Road to Bethlehem Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $18.00 You may know Hamilton’s popular 24 Hours That Changed the World, a great study of the death and resurrection of Jesus that is used during Lent and Easter. Like that good resource, this Advent/Christmas study is available as a hardback book, has an accompanying DVD (filmed in the Holy Land, and very well done, in about 13 minute sessions), a youth study, and a child’s booklet. There is a small 28-day devotional guide (The Journey: A Season of Reflection) too, to read along with the chapters of the book which is popular. We are really impressed with this whole program, and with endorsements from the likes of John Ortberg and Bill Hybels, you can guess it is missional, visionary, exciting and altogether useful and solid. Hamilton is the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood Kansas. Check out this youtube trailer of the DVD so you can get a flavor of Hamilton’s clarity and helpful style. Very nicely done. (By the way, there is a piece at the end of the DVD where there is some illuminating reflection on the current state of Arab-Israeli relations, set in Palestine. Kudos to Hamilton for offering a desire to see the land of Jesus’ birth be a place of justice, grace and shalom. It offers a provocative ending to a good study. Thanks be to God.)
â€¨The Journey hardback book $18.00
The Journey DVD $39.00
The Journey devotional paperback $10.00
The Journey youth study $8.00
The Journey children’s study $16.00
DVD A Thrill of Hope: The Christmas Story in Word and Art (Church Publishing – Morehouse) $29.95 //Discussion Guide; $4.95 This is a splendid, visually striking DVD study produced by Candler School of Theology (at Emory U
niversity in Atlanta.) The nearly hour-long video explores (in six sessions) the standard Biblical narratives for the Christmas season but opens them up to new insights by experiencing great contemporary art pieces by John August Swanson made to illuminate these texts. This is ideal for a group study, for personal enjoyment, as a gift given to art lovers or for anyone wanting a fresh take on the old familiar passages. Discussion on the artwork and Biblical texts are from premier mainline scholars (such as Rev. Dr. Tom Long, Dr. Carol Newsom and others.) Why the package designers they didn’t show off the colorful art of Swanson or explain the marvelous array of contributors to this wonderful resource is beyond me. Bet your humming O Holy Night, aren’t you?
Christmas: Light Splits the Night infuse bible studies (Faith Alive) $6.99 This is a fine example of good study resources coming from this creative, solid publisher. These lessons are designed for those who don’t have much time to prepare, who join together for lively discussion and learning…including a celebration at the end of the group. The approach to Bible study in this series emphasizes discovery (the reader discovers what the Bible has to say by asking questions and seeking answers from the passage.) Additional insights from history and other sources help to fill in details that connect this story to the larger story of God’s love and care for us all.
Celebrating Christmas With Jesus Max Lucado (Nelson) $2.99 Sometimes, I must admit, when lamenting the cheesy side of mass marketed evangelical publishing, the name of the ever-popular Max Lucado comes up, icon that he is– a symbol of sorts. But you know, I have always loved Max’s writing (yes, we call him by first name, even though we never met) and his Advent materials in the past (not to mention his full-length book God Came Near) have been excellent. These are evocative, moving, well-written, and honest, easily accessible for all. This little 30-day pocket book is very nicely done and we are happy to promote it. And here is the uniqueness of this: it isn’t a study only of the birth narratives, but looks at 30 key moments in the life of Jesus. This truly is a (very brief) introduction to the man whose birthday we celebrate at Christmastime. Not a bad idea, eh?
Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr: Daily Reflections for Advent Richard Rohr (St. Anthony Messenger’s Press) $1.95 Speaking of long-standing icons in religious publishing offering nice small books—I hope you know this Franciscan author—this miniature devotional book offers daily reflections and prayers along with each day’s Scripture from the lectionary. Fr. Rohr has deep concerns about authentic spirituality, genuine human-ness, and an outward focus on peace and justice. These are very short writings based on a popular recorded lecture.
TWO BOOKS AND A VIDEO THAT AREN’T EXACTLY DEVOTIONALS or STUDIES BUT ARE HAPPILY AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
I Will Hold My Candle and Other Stories for Christmas Dave Carver (Lulu) $15.00 This is one of my favorite new holiday resources and I hope you will consider picking this up–I really do. Carver is, I’ll admit, an old friend, and former campus minister with the CCO, so I hope many come to know this little book. He’s a good, good guy. For years, now, Dave has labored as an ordinary Presbyterian pastor in a fairly ordinary (is any church ordinary?) urban neighborhood church in Pittsburgh. Each year he writes a short story for Christmas eve services and this is a fabulous collection of his well-crafted pieces. These could be read as sermons or devotionals, I suppose, but they are, in fact, stories. (He explores this is a fantastic opening forward called “Why Stories, Anyway?” which is instructive for any pulpit preacher or classroom teacher.) All of Pastor Dave’s stories are rooted in The Story, and his conjuring short plot and narrative, characters and surprises, allow us to be open to the Christmas message in fresh, arresting ways. A few of these are truly great, and all are very well worth reading. Preachers may borrow them, you could use them in your own family or small group, and of course writers may be inspired to create their own similar short fiction pieces. As a pastor, he does not want these to be obscure or artsy, so even though they have good literary styling—Carver is a smarter and more eloquent man than I, and quotes from very good poems, too—I’d say they are down to Earth, clear, useful. Dare I say “incarnational”? As it says on the back cover, “listen for the ways in which God’s promises ring true in our world and allow Dave’s imagination to spur your own. Perhaps you will be able to see your life, or your neighbor, in a whole new light.” Great holiday reading!
Christmas is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving Like Jesus Mike Slaughter (Abingdon) $12.00 Perhaps you saw our enthusiastic promotion of the Advent Conspiracy DVD and books the last few years. Maybe you know the Alternatives simple living movement, and their slogan about Christmas not being your birthday. Energetic leader and author and edgy mega-church pastor Mike Slaughter here gives us the short version of all that, inviting us to reject consumerism, gain a global vision, give and serve more, rooted in a missional, Kingdom-coming, socially-engaged reading of the Christmas story. As he reminds us, “every year many of us say we are going to cut back, simplify, and have a family Christmas that focuses on the real reason for the season, but every year the advertisements beckon, the children plead, and it seems easier just to indulge our wants and whims. Overspending, overeating, materialism, and busyness robs us of our peace and joy and rob Jesus of His rightful role as the center of our celebration.”
This Christmas, cut through the hype that leaves you exhausted and broke. Here are the five well-written, short chapters: “Expect a Miracle”, “Giving Up on the Perfect”, “Scandalous Love”, “Jesus’ Wish List”, “By a Different Road.” We all need this sort of reminder and Slaughter is living out some remarkable stuff in his own good congregation of world-changers. Highly recommended.
Note, please, how we previously lauded God With Us (Paraclete Press; $29.95) the extraordinary and quite handsome hardback edited by Greg Pennoyer and Image journal’s Greg Wolfe, both who are wise and deep thinkers engaged in the arts and literature for the sake of cultural renewal. You can tell there is nothing smarmy or inappropriately sentimental with rich contributions by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw. The glossy paper and good art reproductions make this truly a great keepsake. It would make a great, great gift for thoughtful friends, don’t you think? I’m sure you know somebody you’d like to remind that the Christian faith is mature and profound and artful—maybe this would help. This is truly one of the nicest resources we’ve seen in all of our 29 seasons of Advent book-selling.
AND THIS: AN EXTRAORDINARY NEW REALITY-SHOW TYPE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A JOURNEY TO THE MIDDLE EAST TO DISCOVER THE GEOGRAPHY OF CHRISTMAS. FOR FIVE STRANGERS, CHRISTMAS IS NOW REALITY.
DVD Journey to Christmas (Windborne) $19.99 This entertaining, very moving, double disc, expertly-produced video may be the best bargain of the year, and for some, the most important Christmas product this year. Join five diverse people—from a young First Nation’s woman to an agnostic lawyer, a poet, a Messianic Jew, and a burned out radio personality—as they travel the holy land, work with local guide Nizar Shaheed, and attempt to discover the true meaning of Christmas. The movie’s tag-line gives us a hint: “For Five Strangers, The Nativity is Now Reality.” Featuring commentary from Biblical and historical experts like Paul Maier, Craig Evans, and Claire Pfann, this exotic and compelling documentary is like a TV reality show where the stakes are the very meaning of history itself. Please (please) watch this trailer (shown below) and see the quality of this excellent, interesting resource that could be enjoyed as we share the meaning of the holiday with our family, friends, and neighbors. We are thrilled to get to sell this sort of thing. Thanks for caring.
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