Okay, friends, here it is, our annual description of new
Advent resources. Don’t delay —
we are giving away a free Advent book if you order anything in the next 72
After that, all these fine
resources (and some that we’ve mentioned other years, here, here, or even here, if they are still in
print and still available) still qualify for the BookNotes reader’s 20%
And don’t forget my review of the newly re-issued The Advent of Justice devotional by Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, J. Richard Middleton, and Mark Vander Vennen, which I described here.
So, if you order by the
end of day Sunday, we’ll toss in an Advent book or study (of our choice, something nice, with real value, as our gift to you.) After that, we still offer a 20% discount, deducted off the retail price that is shown.
Spread the word, gather your group, send an email to Santa or do
whatever you have to do. There is
something for almost anyone. We’re here, helping you get ready to get ready.
The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent,
Christmas & Epiphany Extremist Sybil MacBeth (Paraclete Press)
$17.99 Wow, what’s not to like
about this – written, as it is, by a self-professed season “extremist.” Ha! I love that! (And, as a good liturgical aficionado would,
this resource includes ample stuff for Epiphany!) The spiffy ad copy on the
back – with a design that looks warm and contemporary – says “Christmas
sparkles brighter – when you celebrate the season in all of its fullness.” Okay, there’s an allusion to Advent,
Christmas, and Epiphany – but it
means more, I think. Ms MacBeth,
you see, is the author of the very, very popular Praying in Color (and the pocket edition, and the kid’s edition)
that invites us to doodle and design and be creative in our playfully serious coloring
our prayers. From colored pencils
to other creative options, that book, like this one, is fabulous for those who
can’t just sit still and read and meditate. When this invites us to celebrate in “fullness” it means to
suggest a multi-dimensional, holistic kind of engagement. And – kudos to the Sisters of Paraclete
Press – the design of this colorful book is as lovely as the idea. It really is vibrant, colorful, and
Listen to what Lauren Winner writes about it. (She was, by the way, an early booster
of MacBeth’s earlier projects.)
This gorgeous book is going to remain at my reading chair, dog-eared
and bookmarked, all through the Yuletide season. It will also be under the tree
of just about everyone on my gift list. We will all have more interesting
winters, and greater intimacy with Jesus, because of it.
All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas Quinn G.
Caldwell (Abingdon) $15.99 Well,
somewhat like the Sybil MacBeth one, this looks cheery and upbeat, like one of
those bright red advertisements for chain department stores that are so
alluring this time of year (until you look carefully at the lower right corner. Ha.) But – but! – this is some pretty radical stuff, not
just a pretty package. As the
author (a pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC Church in Syracuse NY) writes,
“Let’s get one thing straight: this book is not going to help you ‘simplify the
season.’ It’s not going to help you throw a stress-free Christmas party or
create the Best Christmas Ever in five easy steps. I’m not here to simplify
anything for you. Neither is God.
If you have too many cookie exchanges or whatever, you’re just going to have to
find a way to deal with that yourself. This book is actually designed to
complicate the season. It’s here to invite you to think and pray a little more
deeply about it.”
So, yeah, there’s that.
As Lillian Daniel writes of it, “Accept this invitation to a
five-week birthday party for Jesus, populated by aggressive cousins, evil
dragons, and last-minute shoppers. Your Christmas is about to get hilariously
complicated.” Or, listen to the
punchy, passionate Debbie Blue (you do know her crazy-good, very provocative Birds of the Bible don’t you?) “I love
that the suggestions are surprising (set something on fire, decorate garishly,
believe in a God that can co-opt the culture’s co-option.) It’s playful and
funny and theologically profound.”
These readings are pretty amazing, sure to make you think, knock you off
balance a bit, maybe even knock some sense into us all. As Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard says,
he “releases us from forced cheerfulness and invites us to relish the rich,
complex darkness of the season…”
The Christmas Countdown: Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for
Families Margie J. Harding (Paraclete Press) $15.99 I’m always a little suspicious when a
book promises “meaningful and fun activities” for families with children. I’m not sure that most of these sorts
of earnest resources work that well.
Maybe our family was just spiritually dull or religiously lazy (or, at
times, overwrought?) but we were often a bundle of antsy un-cooperation. I wish we’d have had this handsome book
when our children were young: it combines moderate, ancient, solid theological
insight and interesting, earnest, maybe even fruitful activities, from word
puzzles and games to recipes and songs.
There are readings, discussion questions, prayers. There are “action” steps for adults and
“prompts” for kids of varying ages, including an “onward” session for after
Christmas. I don’t know how “new”
these traditions will be – but if you’ve not tried this sort of thing before,
or if you haven’t found it meaningful, well, this could be a good next step. Very nicely done.
Light of Lights: Advent Devotions from The Upper Room Upper
Room (Abingdon) $10.00 This little
guy is a gem for a few reasons. It is brief, inexpensive, pocket-sized
(almost.) It could be used
personally, as any devotional guide would be; the readings are mature,
contemplative, well-written, as you’d expect from the altogether lovely Upper
Room. But this is the main value and point: it is designed, really, to be a
resource to be used with an Advent wreath. There are four weeks of devotions with the themes (of the
Advent wreath) of Hope, Love, Joy, Peace. There are some little tips for
including the tradition of the wreath in your home or congregation, and there
is a small group guide in the back, so it could be used in a small group,
Sunday school class, or other faith community setting. We highly recommend this
hands-on customer – especially if you have kids that like fire! Light of Lights suggests a
flame-retardant artificial wreath, but we say “humbug!” to that. Go get some fresh-smelling pine or
holly or anything real. Let
Christ, the very God of very God, be your light of lights!
Not a Silent Night: Mary Looks Back to Bethlehem Adam Hamilton
(Abingdon) $16.99 I suppose by now
you know of this Kansas-based, United Methodist pastor, nearly a rock star, one
of the biggest selling religious authors these days, a passionate, powerful
speaker who appeals very widely.
His previous studies of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and the
life of Jesus (see, The Journey and The Way) have been very useful, and are
purchased by individuals, families, and, of course, congregations. Like many of the others he has done, this book (which can
be read as a stand-alone devotional) has a DVD, a leader’s guide, a youth
version, a children’s resource, even a little flash-drive full of
congregational ideas and preaching resources. We gave the different components, for sure!
Anyway, if you’ve read any of his other thoughtful, inspiring
books, you’ll want this. I suppose
the “spend Christmas with Mary” has been done before, but maybe you’ve not explored it — at least not like this, imagining
Jesus from Mary’s point of view.
Hamilton starts at the end, with Mary at the crucifixion and
resurrection, and then travels back in time as she witnesses Jesus’ life and
ministry, and ends at the beginning, “with the Christ child born in a stable,
Mary’s beautiful baby.” Wow.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99 Last year we raved about a very handsome hardback devotional by Ann Voskamp, the amazingly good writer of the very popular One Thousand Gifts. It was called The Greatest Gift. There is a fabulous DVD curriculum to use with it, which explores the great, rich tradition of “The Jesse Tree.” We were fond of that book and DVD, too, but can hardly express how this material has generated yet another Advent book by Ms Voskamp — a full-color, oversized hardback with good, glossy pages, which beautifully helps families explore moving scenes from the Bible that lead us, step by step, through the history of redemption and towards the birth of Christ and the Advent of His Kingdom. Vivid, contemporary illustrations enhance the Scripture readings and questions and activities; links for downloadable ornaments are included that help communicate the stages of salvation history, starting with the Garden of Eden. On the back cover of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift they invite us to “Celebrate the best love story of all time with your family!” Indeed, this helps your family retrace the linage of Jesus and fall in love with the story of God, unfolded bit by bit, with very nice artwork and these great downloadable ornaments.
This is a beautiful book you will want to keep, because, we hope, it is one you will cherish.
Feasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship edited by David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Kimberly Bracken Long (Westminster/John Knox) $25.00 You very well may know all four volumes, of all three liturgical cycles, all 12 of the Feasting on the Word preaching commentaries. And you may have used some of the creative, helpful Feasting on the Word Worship Companion volumes which offer liturgical resources, prayers, litanies, and such, drawn from and inspired by the Feasting… project. Well, the rumors are true: they’ve created one convenient volume for Advent (and Christmas eve and Christmas day) use, that includes preaching ideas as well as worship aids, with ideas on everything from Advent wreath litanies, suggested hymns and carols to children’s service ideas and ready-to-use options for a mid-week service.
I know we’ve mentioned this earlier in the season, but it is useful for those that need such an all in one pastor’s companion and deserves to be listed with the other best of 2014 Advent resources.
Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel’s Messiah foreword by Albert L. Blackwell (Westminster/John Knox) $15.00 This is an amazing, wonderfully done hardback (at a great price, I might add) that prints the libretto from Messiah (crafted by GFH’s friend Charles Jennens) and the NRSV Biblical texts upon which they are based. The 40 Biblical meditations are by a variety of pastors, scholars, and mainline denominational writers, adapted or drawn from the exegetical and theological material in — wait for it… — the preaching commentaries, Feasting on the Word Year A, B, and C. Actually, this is a great idea, with sophisticated, brief theological reflections based on these classic texts, presented in a very nice devotional format. As it reminds us on the back cover, “These memorable words can easily be heard in a kind of sentimental haze, familiar from countless church choir concerts and Christmas eve services. But the Scriptures Handel set to music in his most beloved oratorio also tell as powerful story — of God’s promised one, from prophetic foretelling to birth, death, resurrection, and ultimate victory. Find inspiration for your holiday season and year-round faith with these forty insightful meditations.” Hallelujah!
The Messiah: The Texts Behind Handel’s Masterpiece (Lifeguide Bible Study) Douglas Connelly (IVP) $8.00 You may know that the Lifeguide Bible Studies are the most popular small group Bible study guides out there, basic, clear, thoughtful, inductive without being self-evident. This doesn’t have too much about Handel or Messiah and so could be done by those who have little interest in classical music. It examines in 8 sessions the key Bible texts that make up the grand oratorio. Maybe you could even do a few weeks of it now, and safe the last portions for Lent or Eastertime. There is a very nice suggestion at the end of each study (which they call “now or later”) which invites a careful listening to the music, attending to this feature or that characteristic of the performance. It would be fantastic to do that as a group – I favor the “now” rather than the “later” – but they realize not every group wants to do that. This really is a nice part of this inexpensive study, and we highly recommend it. Maybe this is a bit overstated, but on the back it suggests, “Perfect for Advent or Lent, this guide leads you through Scripture passages used in Handel’s Messiah that highlight who Jesus is and what he came to do. It might change the way you listen to Handel’s oratorio. Even more, it might change the way you live.”
In the Manger: 25 Inspirational Selections for Advent Max
Lucado (Nelson) $9.99 I think of
all the many, many great books and devotionals Max has done over the last 30
years, God Came Near is one of his
best, and remains a enduring, lovely, moving set of ruminations on the
incarnation. In this handsomely
designed little hardback, we get short excerpts from this and other popular
books by the evocative author.
Sentimental, challenging, insightful, worshipful, tender – each page is
a delight, nicely done, helpful. Lucado has written a lot of beloved books over his career, and this little compilation is very nice, not pushy or heavy, but yet compelling.
In the Manger is the kind of book that you will enjoy
if you are a fan of Max Lucado, and it is very nice book to give away to those
who may not know his rich, inspiring prose. A perfect stocking stuffer or gift to tuck in with another
gift or greeting.
Under Wraps: The Gift We Never Expected Jessica LaGrone, Andy
Nixon, Rob Rendroe, Ed Robb
(Abingdon) $12.99 Okay, the
“unwrapping” gifts has been done before in too many sermon series, Christmas
tracts, Advent devotionals. I know.
I don’t even love the cover of this with the silly (retro?) type font. But you know what? This is a truly
lovely book, handsomely designed with some very nice artful touches inside,
with mature and meaty insights, good reflection questions and eloquent prayers. I like it a lot.
The writers have been teaching pastors
at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in Texas, and this is solid, accessible,
interesting stuff. I was almost
bowled over by the simple paragraph that talked about God becoming incarnate in
Jesus “under wraps” and as I opened myself to reflecting on these short sets of
readings, concluded that this is a very faithful, very fine, easy-to-use
resource. The chapters attempt to reveal the attributes of God throughout redemptive
history, in chapters called “God is Expectant”, “God is Dangerous”, “God is
Jealous” and “God Is Faithful.”
There is a final section for use during Christmas week called “A Season
Besides this devotional, they’ve produced a DVD, a Leader’s Guide, a
youth study book, a children’s resource, even a worship planning flash drive
with lots of good stuff for sermons, PowerPoint, creative liturgical
resources. Call us if you want more info, as we have all the various supplemental pieces, including the nice DVD.
Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer
for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete
Press) $18.99 Dare I tip my hand
and say that I intend to use this often this season? It really is an extraordinary book, a literary and spiritual
feast full of fiction, poetry, and excerpts of great literature. The book is
elegantly designed with French folded covers, and an equally beautifully
tone. Perhaps you know Arthur’s
previous one like this, At the Still
Point which was for use in Ordinary Time. This includes a daily prayer which is most often a poem
(including some surprising choices) and then a Psalm, Scripture readings, and
then some daily offerings of poems and short excerpts of fiction. If you believe in the holy coming to us
in the guise of literature, this is for you.
As poet Luci Shaw writes of it, “Sarah Arthur illuminates
our whole year with the gift of flaming words. A treasure of
enlightenment.” Just a thought:
even if you aren’t interested in Oscar Hijuelos or MacDonald’s Gifts of the Christ Child or Elizabeth
Barrett Browning or Gerard Manley Hopkins or Fred Buechner or Christiana
Rossetti, you surely know some lit-lovers, English majors, or aspiring poets
who don’t want a more customary Advent devotional. This would make a beautiful, appreciated gift.
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