Even though I often enter a bit late, at first not even willing, I really do love the season of waiting, the season of longing and hope that Advent becomes for us. I say “becomes for us” because too often, for many of us, it isn’t received as such. The weeks of December become merely a time of getting ready for Christmas; Advent doesn’t do anything for us or to us. We don’t quite live into the uniqueness of the season that the church calendar gives us but just think about the holiday in terms of shopping, vacation plans, family. Whether we like the sparkly lights, the red aprons at Starbucks, and the holly-jolly music or whether we Hate That Stuff, the very ubiquity of seasonal surroundings can be distracting to the real spiritual practices that can help us live faithfully in this next month and a half.
Reading James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit will help remind you of the importance of all this, and help you navigate more discerningly what he calls the “cultural liturgies” that inform and form us. But in December this stuff is so obvious, you don’t need Smith to tell you that the mall is out to get you, and can conscript you into its story long before you get to lighting that fourth candle of the Advent wreath.
People have found that having a daily reading time, a devotional that focuses our thoughts on the season is a helpful practice. Every year we offer good suggestions at BookNotes and some folks have told us how they look forward to getting an Advent resource to read (even if only in fits and starts) from us in December.
It is a joy and honor to get to help you with this problem we all face: how to allow our deepest convictions about things to truly shape us. To be subversive to the idols of the land, to develop best practices for daily discipleship.
There are a few classic Advent readers that we often recommend.
We love, for instance, the beautifully produced, literary, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (Reader’s Edition) edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press; $18.99) which includes a few great contemporary writers such as Eugene Peterson and Luci Shaw and Kathleen Norris and such.
Another real classic and perennial best seller for us is published in hardback by our friends at Plough Publishing and is called Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing; $24.00) which has bunches of holiday writings from everybody from Bonhoeffer to Lewis, Augustine to Mother Theresa, and other historic writers.
And don’t miss — especially if you’re a lover of classic, great literature — the glorious Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press; $18.99) which is a prayer book using classy writers of fiction, poetry, memoir, and creative nonfiction essays.
Last year we celebrated at Redeemer the release of Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller (Viking; $20.00) which I really think is a great read, a very strong, short explanation, good even for seekers and skeptics.
Maybe you should know an unusual, artfully illustrated set of reflections on animals during winter that works in an allusive sort of way for Advent: All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Gayle Boss, illustrated by David G. Klein (Paraclete; $18.99.)
You can see our descriptions of previous lists here (2014) here (2015) and here (2016). Feel free to google Hearts & Minds BookNotes + “Advent” or use our search box at the website to find older, earlier lists.
Here are some that we recommend this new year of our Lord, at the start of the new Christian year in this fresh holiday season.
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The One True Story: Daily Readings for Advent from Genesis to Jesus Tim Chester (The Good Book Company) $7.99 We have really appreciated Tim Chester’s many books as he is a fine church planter (in the UK) and leader for a thoughtful, wholistic, culturally-relevant but orthodox Kingdom vision. I’d read nearly anything he writes and when we heard, last year, that he had done this collection of 24 short, meditative readings (with the standard ideas for reflection, prayer, and application) I knew it could excite many for the gospel.
Indeed, I love how this book reminds us that the whole Bible is an unfolding drama and that the:
story of the baby in the manger is the culmination of a thousand other stories. It is the focus of the story of the Bible and the story of human history.
If this sounds like Lesslie Newbigin (or, then again, even Sally Lloyd-Jones’s Jesus Storybook Bible) or N.T. Wright and his metaphor of several unfolding acts in a coherent drama, then, yes, you get why this “historical-redemptive” approach is generative and fruitful and good. This offers “the full script of the nativity, the story of our world, and the plotline for the rest of your life…” We like this book and it is very highly recommended.
By the way, although I have not read them, there are two others with uniform covers that seem to be companion volumes, also written by Tim Chester and published by The Good Book Company. They are The One True Gift: Daily Readings for Advent to Encourage and Inspire and The One True Light: Daily Readings for Advent from the Gospel of John
Advent for Everyone: A Journey with the Apostles N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 I don’t have to tell BookNotes readers how fond we are of Wright’s vision of the relevance of historic orthodoxy, his insistence that the gospel must be seen as the inauguration of the Kingdom, and his creative but reliable Biblical exegesis that so beautifully captures Older Testament echoes in the narrative of the New. Not to mention his knack for offering just the right common sense illustration to explain complex insights. His small “New Testament for Everyone” series of commentaries are lovely, potent, and usable and this brand new inspirational guide for the Advent season is in that tone. It Advent for Everyone includes reflections from the first Sunday in Advent through the Saturday after the Fourth Sunday in Advent. He bases his comments on his own translation (which, I suppose you know, is available as The Kingdom New Testament.) Each week discusses key themes for the season: thanksgiving, patience, humility, and joy and are based on Epistles –1 and 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, Galatians, 1 John, James, and the like. Nice.
Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $13.00 As much as we like Tom Wright on the New Testament, Walter Brueggemann remains one of our great guides into the Older Testament; he is always generative and provocative and still able to surprise us with keen insights about the Biblical texts. Few authors are as attentive to the literary and political, social contexts of Hebrew Scriptures and few scholars are as passionately prophetic about the nature of the churches mission. I never tire of imagining his slow, drawling voice speaking he words on the pages of his books. This powerful new devotional has short readings for each day of the season, each followed by a prayer drawn from Brueggemann’s words, and twelve evocative, beautiful prayers he wrote for the “twelve days of Christmas.” It’s worth the price of the book just to have these poetic prayers at your fingertips.
As the compiler of this volume writes in a brief introduction:
Advent is a time for telling the truth – the truth about our weariness and our anxiety, yes, but also the truth of the relentless generosity of God, which opens up futures that seem to be shut down. Walter Brueggemann is a persistent truth-teller, and his sermons invite us to consider the newness and abundance of God that is always already breaking into our settled lives.
And then he says:
If Advent is also a time for waking up, consider Walter an indefatigable alarm clock.
Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher D. Rodkey and Jesse & Natalie Turri (CBP) $12.99 Perhaps you recall the long review I offered for the Coloring Lent volume that Rev. Rodkey wrote (the Turri’s did the curiously interesting artwork) where I exclaimed that I had never seen anything quite like this. Well, this companion volume for Advent is not quite as unique but, still, is an extraordinary stand out piece of work.
Chris is good friend and a Dallastown pastor serving a UCC congregation up the street and I admire him not only for his tireless and very creative efforts to nurture a unique faith community unlike others in town, but for his outspoken leadership on many local issues including safety of LGBTQ kids in high school, racial justice, and interfaith dialogue. To say he is a progressive isn’t quite right or adequate: he’s a deeply radical Christian, and his unique take on the lectionary texts for the Advent season reminds us of the mysteries and social realities that entered the world at the incarnation of the Christ.
We can encounter these sacred stories, ponder the implications, all in a meditative act of coloring. There is little doubt that an attentive bodily practice like that helps us be mindful. Doing this in groups could be not only a light, fun way to bring folks together but could push us into the texts, the redemptive story.
What Chris does in brief, nearly poetic prose is remarkable. He offers brief comments on the Biblical texts for the season from the opening reminders that God waits until the time is right – what does the phrase in Galatians 4, “the fullness of time” mean, anyway? — to the “secret” being revealed (Romans 16) to the description of John the forerunner to Christ’s divinity being revealed to shepherds and the magi. As you may know, lectionary texts include passages other than the birth narratives, so you’ll find “a prayer for uninhabited spirit” taken from 1 Thessalonians and a reminder of God’s love pouring out into the world in 2 Peter 3 which he cleverly calls “kenosis” – with swirling artwork showing some kind of energetic substance invading the globe.
Like his stunningly provocative Coloring Lent Rodkey offers some endnotes, that explain more about the references and allusions in the text or the artwork, a very thoughtful introduction, and allusive language throughout. The ecumenical nature of this is educational, too, in a low-key way, as he offers prayers from the Orthodox tradition, includes a postscript picture called Sol Invictus which is “the solemnity of Mary” which is drawn from Revelation 12 and shows a learned understanding of the broader Christian community.
You’ve never seen a brief devotional quite like this and you’ve never seen a coloring book like this. It will sooth you as you enter the rhythms, literally, of using crayons or colored pencils, but it won’t dull you into some falsely pious quietude. In his provocative preface, Rev. Rodkey reminds us that “we to are victims of this world even as we participate in the victimization of the world.” Through an encounter with the Spirit, we’ve got work to do.
If you get into these Biblical mediations or, better put, if these texts get into you, it could, as Rodkey writes, renew our desire “to rectify our commitment to the Kingdom of God, whose birth pangs are ringing loudly around us in Christmas bells, festive lights, and carols, and in anticipation of the Christhood delivered to us as a child being born on this dark and cold night.” I like that — with a practice of focus and openness and creative engagement with historic texts, we can become the sort of people who do Advent well, even in the festive stuff of the American holiday season. Who knew that playfully appropriating the current rage for adult coloring books could be so radical?
Come Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional Paul David Tripp (Crossway) $17.99 Do you know the profound, practical, Biblically-based, gospel-centered guidance offered by theologian/psychologist Tripp? He’s a leading light in the CCEF (a conservative, mostly Reformed center for Biblical counseling) and his writings are beloved by many. He has a few devotionals, includiing a big year’s-worth call New Morning Mercies, a recent book on awe, a couple of resources on parenting and family, one for younger adults interestingly called Relationships” A Mess Worth Making. This new Advent one is a handsome hardback with no frills, offering solid, Christ-centered reflections on the historically-redemptive vision of the coming of the rescuing King.
Tripp here offers 31 readings, and after each he offers one core truth to take hold of that day. Although the reflections are written for adults, he has in his preface a word to parents about how to communicate this central theme of the day to children. Nice.
Paul Tripp has lots of fans for good reason. He notes in the acknowledgments that through many friends and pastors and teachers “I have come to know the Word, learning to interpret life, been humbled by my own need, and grown to love my rescuing Savior.” A devotional about Advent by a man who understands grace is a good thing.
Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent Anselm Grun (Paraclete Press) $16.99 Father Grun is a very well-known author of both adult and children’s books, especially in Europe. (I’ll show some of his classy children’s work in a future BookNotes about kid’s books.) He is a German Benedictine monk, Cellarer of Munsterschwarzach Abbey. I just wanted to write that; don’t ask me how to say it. But, importantly, his courses on formation and his ministry of spiritual direction are universally appreciated—he’s sold over 15 million copies of his many books in over 30 languages! He brings to mind, at least in this regard, the irony of Thomas Merton, a huge, best-selling author and public speaker known the world over, despite his having been a Cistercian who took a vow of silence, and was usually silent when at his Abbey. In any event, Grun is known as gentle, still, man, and his calm spirit is nearly felt in his books; this one is no exception. He invites you to come “face to face with the God who loves you” and he helps illuminate a path towards that encounter by helping you learn to experience, to practice, even in our waiting. Each chapter, in fact, pairs a Scripture, an Advent tradition, and a simple practice.
Some may think this is too simple but it is deceptively so. His psychological insight, his theological rigor, and his Biblical warmth and wisdom makes this book a very nice way to help Jesus come daily into our own hearts, even as He comes into the whole world.
All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God’s Creation at Advent Katie Z. Dawson (Abingdon) $12.99 As you might guess, we care deeply about what some call “creation care” and are always on the look-out for spiritual resources that do not reflect a dualism between what theologians called “nature and grace.” (Just consider the long story I told in the last BookNotes about how much we’ve been influenced by the likes of Al Wolters whose Eerdmans book is called, notably, Creation Regained and how in a recent conference about the theologian Abraham Kuyper Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry used to evoke a sense of awe about the goodness of God’s world and to lament of the brokenness of creation.) Well, one needn’t be that sort of reformational worldview visionary to appreciate deeply the ways in which the entire cosmos is described in the Scriptures as central to the saving work of Christ. The whole created world waits – it says so quite directly in Romans 8, just for example – and somehow the coming of Christ is good news not just for people but also for creation itself. This is a strong but neglected Bible truth, even though the carol rejoices that “heaven and nature sing!”
This new paperback is an Advent Bible study designed to be used by individuals and/or small groups and it’s great. Each chapter offers questions for reflection and discussion and a focus for the week that, as they put it, “encourages readers to engage a specific act of creation care.”
As the back cover explains:
Also included are Advent candle lighting liturgies, a Call to Worship, a Prayer of Confession that can be used throughout Advent, and hymn suggestions for each chapter.” Of course, these can help congregational leaders and worship planners but they can be used in small groups or home worship as well.
We like this a lot. Why not get a few and pass them along. Folks in the church and outside of the church need to be reminded of how our classic faith traditions really do resource and equip us to enjoy creation and to see God’s plan for us to steward well the joys of the good, and beautiful Earth.
My Soul Waits: Praying with the Psalms Through Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Martin Shannon, CJ (Paraclete Press) $14.99 We can always count on Paraclete Press of Brewster Massachusetts (where they live in a liturgical community called the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod) to offer profound and classy reflections for the church year. Some of our favorite books are from them! This one looks just wonderful, with endorsements from Patrick Henry Reardon (the Orthodox scholar who wrote Christ in the Psalms and edits Touchstone Magazine) who recommends this as a guide to helping us know how to pray the Psalms appropriately during Advent and the Christmas season. You may know that Fr. Shannon, himself an Episcopal priest with a PhD in liturgical studies from Catholic University, wrote According to Your Mercy: Praying with the Psalms from Ash Wednesday to Easter. I hope it isn’t in keeping with the tone of the quest, Biblical book to say that this guy knows his stuff! My Soul Waits is unlike any resource I know (using the Psalms during Advent) and is highly recommended.
As an indication of the ecumenicity and profoundity of these strong reflections, a Benedictine Abbot Primate from Rome says it is,
…an inspiring and deeply experimental journey through the Psalms of the Advent season.
In Days to Come: From Advent to Epiphany George H. Donigian (Upper Room) $12.99 I’ve always appreciated books by The Upper Room for their gentle, sometimes quiet tone, their contemplative spiritual approach. This maybe isn’t as liturgical or monastic as some books that they do, but it is perfect for those who are – as it says on the back – “tired of Christmas coming and going too quickly.”
This book invites you to stretch this time and to savor the gifts of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany.
Here’s how they put it:
Lingering in the seasons of Advent and Christmas can deepen our sense of awe and wonder. In Days to Come takes us from Advent through the Twelve Days of Christmas and on to Epiphany. George Donigian offers reflections on Bible passages, church history, John Wesley, modern prophets, hymn writers, and composers. Writing from his unique perspective of his Armenian Christian heritage, he enriches our celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
The six chapters each contain a thematic introduction, four meditations, prayers and reflection questions. The book moves from the hope and promise of Advent to the fulfillment and mission of Epiphany. It really looks nice.
Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jospeh Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $19.99
DVD Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jospeh Adam Hamilton (Abingdon) $39.99 / Leader Guide $12.99
We have been surprised over the years that there haven’t been more great resources on Christians through the eyes of Jospeh. Maybe you recall that fabulous song by Michael Card (“Jospeh’s Song”) which is still a favorite of ours. Well, this book and dynamic DVD teaching remedies that nicely. Hamilton is so popular, and he is popular for a reason. He is amiable, well informed, serious but not too much so, classy but not snobby, an evangelical with mainline denominational training and ethos. He has gotten accolades from good communicators and thoughtful pastors from across the church and many ordinary congregants just love his interesting and inspirational teaching. We stock all of his stuff — and there has been a lot, lately, including teaching DVDs on John, Moses, Paul. His Not a Silent Night is a hugely popular bestseller and this will surely become as known and as beloved.
We’re told a lot of research went into this project and the book is well worth reading. There are four main chapters and a “rest of the story” afterword. Did you know that the early church really revered Joseph? Did you think of contemporary applications (such as raising adoptive children or the current refugee crisis?) about which we can draw on the virtues of the simple carpenter? There is a richness to this material that may surprise you, and, as Joel Hunter says, “if you think you know the story of Jesus’ birth, think again! This wonderful book sets us on a journey to the times and characters of Christmas so that we experience the birth of Christ in a new way.”
The Lord Is Our Light – Advent 2017 A Elaine Brown Crawford (Abingdon) $9.99 Every year for Lent and for Advent Abingdon Press offers a small group Bible study that explores the Revised Common Lectionary Texts for that year; this year, that is Year B, of course. They call it the ”Scriptures for the Church Seasons” and is perfect for small groups or Adult Ed classes or lectionary study groups that help the preacher prepare week by week. There is a Leader’s Guide included (written by curriculum development professional Nan Duerling) and – as the author puts it – it helps us “understand the meaning of Advent hope, its message of salvation, and how we are called to live “in the meantime.” Crawford is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and holds a PhD in historical theology from Union Theological Seminary.
By the way, we can get you a large print edition ($10.99) of this study if that would be useful. Just let us know.
Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season Alexandra Kuykendall (Baker) $9.99 Sometimes, after an author has a lot of success with a best-selling and much-appreciated book the publisher invites them to do another, maybe a supplement to the main book, or another re-hash. I was worried that this was the case in Kuykendall’s Christmas book because it just sounded like it was Loving My Actual Life done up with a red and green cover.
Okay, having gotten that off my (actual bookseller’s chest) I want to say that I was hooked on this from the very first page when she talks about “this year being different” as she tried to untangle the wad of lights that had been put away too quickly the year before. (Heck, at least she could find them, I thought!) I really, truly enjoyed this, and want you to know it can help you. As Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of The Happiness Dare puts it – “This is the book you need in order to fall in love with the season again.”
You see, the book is about enjoying our real life as it is (messy, sometimes sad, sometimes crazy, sometimes beautiful) and, in learning to be grateful and present to our days, we can, in fact, learn to enjoy not only our lives, but, yes the season. You can find ways to slow down and actually enjoy the customs and traditions and expectations of the holiday. As she says in the title, this is about learning to relish. I like that word, even if I don’t know if I’m up for it.
Look, I know this isn’t deep lectionary-based mystery or heavy cultural critique or robust Biblical reflection, but it is great, fun, useful, and maybe, for some, even urgent. One woman wrote that she has crafted “a rescue manual that will enable you to save your sanity.”
Yes, this follows the formula of her previous, popular book, Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me (which we’ve heard nothing but good stuff about, by the way, especially from somewhat younger women; I love the cover, too!) It is a bit of a chatty memoir since it is posed as an experiment and she tells of her journey. What does it look like to be completely present? What does it mean to relish? And, in the holiday one, especially, there looms this question: ow do we handle common holiday stressors such as finances, schedules, and visits with extended family? Can we enjoy the season as it really isn not the one we wished it was? Can we resist the Hallmark-ish captivity of our imagination to free us to accept and be present to our real, actual Christmas?
I like that the back cover of Loving My Actual Christmas explains one part of it like this:
Kuykendall encourages you to go easy on yourself, remember what truly matters, and find joy in your own imperfect Christmas.
Who doesn’t want to do that? I think Loving My Actual Christmas can help. Maybe you know some younger moms, especially, who will enjoy having this reassuring, fun resource for their own actual Christmases.
Rescuing Christmas: The Search for Joy That Lasts Carl Laferton (The Good Book Company) $2.99 We brought this small paperback into our store to show to our customers not only because of the fun cover showing a penguin with a string of lights – you gotta love that! – but because it is a prefect little gift to share as a housewarming present or to give to somebody who you want to give something to, but not a gift that is toooo much, or a book that is too heavy. This light-hearted book invites us to explore the real source of Christmas joy — certainly even among post-churched folks, a pretty widely-named quest.
The first chapter of Rescuing Christmas is entitled “Lying Awake and Looking for Batteries” and the next is “We Three Kings of Orient Aren’t.” That’s almost as funny as the cover.
It isn’t designed to be a barrel of laughs but Laferton is warm and real. The book explores the gift of leadership, the gift of friendship, the gift of a clean start, and how to “find a happy ending.” It’s a fine introduction to the gospel so it would make an assuming evangelistic gift. It does have a short piece at the end “PS: Do you really expect me to believe in a virgin birth?” I suspect the people you’d give a book to have open minds and fertile imaginations, so while they might resonate with the question, I trust they will appreciate the affirmative answer. Yes, yes, this is classic, historic Christian faith presented in a concise and lively way. With a penguin on the cover. Order a few and we’ll send ’em right out.
Messy Christmas: Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Lucy Moore & Jane Leadbetter (IVP) $14.00 I hope you know about the Messy Church movement that has become a really wonderful thing in many parishes all over.
This movement is, at its fullest, isn’t just using crafts, but it a fresh expression of church live, including themes of welcoming, hospitality, eating together, and creating safe spaces to explore faith. It is a natural outreach and in countries all over the world this non-traditional approach is proving effective.
Here is a nicely done 2-minute video feature filmed in England, with, of course, an interview with a particular cheeky British kid about the Messy Church phenomenon. Here is a short video from Australia that shows how it works in an Anglican parish there. And here is a chirpy, lovely video explaining what it will be like if you go to a Messy Church event.
As these videos explain this all started in the UK – and we used to important two volumes of their artsy/crafty multi-generational experiential worship volumes – and have enjoyed hearing how many congregations (from large to small, mainline to non-denominational) have taken to using them in alternative worship experiences, maybe once a month, in Wednesday night programs, in home groups and more. Alas, the UK ones were a little quirky (from certain products they suggest using that aren’t available stateside to British-isms that left many American readers scratching their heads, not to mention the metric measurements, etc.) Well, rejoice, messy church lovers: InterVarsity Press has adapted and re-done Volume One of Messy Church (and added another small book about why and how to use the Messy Church activities that was also previously only available in England) and, with spiffy new covers, have made a product that really allows US faith communities to experience the same messy church stuff.
So, now, as you can see above, they’ve released an Advent/Christmas one, with, as it says on the front cover, “Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.” These programs really are designed for congregational use, so Christian educators and other parish teachers will want to get it asap, but we know of many families that have enjoyed messing around with them, too.
And this, just in: Messy Lent: Three Complete Sessions and a Treasure Trove of Ideas for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. Yep, we’ve got ‘em all, now. Three cheers for IVP.
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