Often I open our Hearts & Minds newsletter, BookNotes, with an opening paragraph. I was going to say I’m not going to do that this time, just to be funny (because, uh, such a paragraph is, after all, an opening paragraph. Ha.) Sometimes I try to frame the list, but this one hardly needs an introduction: it is nearly the start of the new Christian year — Happy New Year, Church! — and we start the liturgical year in this Advent season of waiting.
Some books emphasize what many Protestants understand; we are counting down the days to Christmas, eagerly waiting for that song, that prayer, for Christ to be “born in us today.” We anticipate the celebration of the coming of the Baby King, the inauguration of His reign, the climax of salvation history which brings joy to the world. All of the books advise us not to jump to Christmas too soon — it is good to sit in this time of waiting, forming the habits of patience and trust and hope that the calendar demands. In a way, I’m glad that because of the tragedy of Covid many churches aren’t doing those Christmas cantatas in the middle of Advent, which disrupt the very spiritual formation of waiting that Advent is to form in us. Maybe this time of quarantine will give us some space to figure out how to do actual Advent cantatas, or, the full-blown Christmas pageants so many love during the 12-Day Season of Christmastide. Next year.
However, as the must-read collection of sermons by the Rev. Dr. Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans; $30.00; OUR SALE PRICE = $24.00) makes clear, the deeper point and meaning of the Advent season is not the countdown to Christmas but a season of getting in touch with our longings for the second coming. Those that follow the Revised Common Lectionary know that the Advent texts are often about judgement and repentance and revealing of truth known as apocalypse. (Again, nobody helps us deepen our seasonal longing for the hope of the restoration of all things promised as the fulfillment of all of history than my favorite Episcopalian preacher, Fleming Rutledge. Her book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ remains one of my favorite books. We’ve promoted it each Advent season since it came out three seasons ago, and again wanted to start this Advent 2020 resource list by naming it.)
As the best Bible study about Advent that I know of, The Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations by Sylvia Keesmaat, Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, and Mark Vander Vennan (Wipf & Stock; $12.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39), nicely explains, the Advent Old Testament texts are set amidst political intrigue and military alliances and coups and social injustice and idols; there is promise of hope, liberation from exile, homecoming. Like Lent, it is a damn serious time of year, despite the attempts of many churches and the mall and Hallmark to tame it.
Nobody views Lent as a happy count-down to the number of days until Easter (do they?) but see it as a necessary spiritual season to engage in practices of self-denial that heighten our awareness of the need for the cross and resurrection. We enter into those Lenten practices on their own dark terms, not merely as preamble to the joy of Easter. Similarly, Advent can be a season experienced not merely as a prelude to Merry Christmas, but as a month long cry of Maranatha!
So here are some good resources, mostly new, but with a few oldies added in. ALL ARE 20% OFF. You can order easily by using the “order here” link at the bottom. Hit the “inquire” link if you just want to ask us a question; we’ll get back to you personally and promptly. Of course, we have other titles — BookNotes only highlights a few items of our large in-store inventory. Thanks.
And, a reminder: we are closed for in-store browsing due to the public health concerns about not spreading Covid (or having our staff overly exposed.) We are doing backyard service and curb-side pick up. Give us a call if you want to stop by. We’d like that.
Awaiting the Already: An Advent Journey Through the Gospels Magrey R. deVega (Abingdon Press) $12.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
I start off the list with this one because it is a four chapter study, lovely essays on each of the four gospels that either describe or pave the way for the coming of Christ. This has Scripture to look up and conversation questions so it is perfect for your Zoom Bible studies, on-line Sunday school, or any other sort of small group sort of gathering. (Please, no face-to-face meetings as the virus is spreading so quickly this month!) We love the title of this — worth having that phrase laying on your coffee table face up, eh? Awaiting the Already was released a few years back and happily brought back with a great new cover. deVega is a well respected United Methodist pastor (who got his degree at United in Dayton, Ohio.) Nicely done.
Imagining a New World: An Advent Devotional Terri Hord Owens (Chalice Press) $3.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $3.19
We list this one early on the list here because it, too, has a special feature.This booklet-like piece does have daily readings for each day of Advent but it also has four short Advent Candle-lighting litanies that you can do at home. Rev. Owens is is the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) Her leadership in that mainline denomination has included a theology of reconciliation, cultural intelligence, and helping develop inclusive and multi-cultural congregations. This is nicely written, by the way, and is in a series done by Chalice, it seems — last year’s inexpensive booklet was the fascinating I Am Mary by Carol Howard Merritt.
Let Us Go Now to Bethlehem: Daily Devotions for Advent and Christmas Todd Outcalt (Upper Room) $13.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19
Upper Room always does lovely, spiritually enriching books, and Todd Outcalt has published many. He is the senior pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Indiana, near Indianapolis. This is pitched as “heartwarming” and an invitation to “discover something new in the story of Jesus’s birth.” I’m not sure it is new, but it is good — and, as he puts it, “The way to Bethlehem is saturated with starts and stops, with both darkness and light…” He’s the guy who wrote Blue Christmas described below, so he gets the human-scale drama that includes terrifying angels and rough-neck shepherds.
Here’s what really cool — while it isn’t a National Geographic study or pilgrimage memoir, the author has been to Bethlehem a couple of times and he invites us to walk along him as he recalls some of what one might learn going there. So that’s a nice device and organizing theme.
Also, there are 28 daily devotionals for Advent, 12 for Christmas, and one for Epiphany. I mention it here at the top of the list because it also has a study guide for a six week small group discussion. You can use it personally or in your family, but an on-line group or Zoom class would be able to use it, too. Nice.
Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson Publishers) $19.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
Good old Max Lucado is one of the most popular inspirational writers of the last 50 years for a reason. He has solid, gospel-centered, simple content, explained with moving prose. Man, can he turn a phrase. He’s not dense or terribly literate (he won’t be confused with Frederick Buechner or Barbara Brown Taylor or even Eugene Peterson) but he is a uplifting writer who communicates with passion and clarity and a reoccurring theme of God’s great love for us, for God being with and for us, in and through Jesus the Christ. There is nothing unusual here except how very personal he makes it. Lucado is a great speaker and communicator and we should be glad for his many books that meet the needs of many.
This is a fabulous book that is both a daily devotional and has in he back a four-week study guide, making it ideal — everybody reads the daily devo meditation and then comes together on line) to talk about it together. For each of the four weeks (and an entry for Christmas day) there are not only reflection questions, but practices, Bible verses, a hymn and a prayer. We appreciate this dual purpose (individual and/or small group) resource and happily recommend it.
Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas Adam Hamilton (Abingdon Press)
So many folks like Adam Hamilton (and he has done several book/DVD projects on Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, among many others.) He is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, one of the fastest growing, most highly visible mainline churches in the country. We carry all his books and DVDs.
Incarnation is the brand new one, and the nice, hardback book is a fine, stand alone read. There are four chapters and a short, fifth epilogue. The reflections are largely oriented around the names of Christ. The nicely made DVD offers four sessions (each around 15 minutes, more or less, set in his nicely decorated living room, in front of a blazing fire.) It seems to me that this is one of his best — Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas is strong, fast-paced, solid, with some good application to our lives today. He’s a good communicator and offers inspiring, no-nonsense Bible explanations.
Searching for Christmas: What If There’s More to the Story Than You Thought J.D. Greear (The Good Book Company) $5.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $4.79
This is a short, six chapter book and even without discussion questions, you could use it in a weekly (virtual) Bible study group or Zoom book club. Greear is President of the Southern Baptist Convention and has stood his gospel ground against those confederates who hated him (!) for denouncing racism. He’s a good evangelical, pastor of a big church, who has a vibrant heart for evangelism, missions, disciple-making and the like. It seems to me that this book is not only a good refresher for any of us about the truths behind the characters and stories of Christmas, it almost could be shared as an invitation to the unchurches.
Want a handsome little paperback that gets us underneath the plot to the real messaged. As Paul Tripp notes, Greear as given us “a winsome book by a great storyteller.”
A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas Kathy Escobar (WJK) $13.00. || OUR SALE PRICE = $10.40
We have long been grateful for churches that hold “Blue Christmas” services, holiday services for those who have lost loved ones, whose grief makes it hard to be cheerful. In the last few years we’ve sold Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness by Todd Outcalt (Upper Room; $11.99) for those who find the holidays difficult. It also features additional prayers, and a “Blue Christmas” worship service.
A Weary World is clearly along these lines, but, if I can generalize, the helpful, gentle Outcalt book is for those who need devotions about coping with their personal sadness, grief, anxiety, depression and the like but the Escobar book is more for all of us, all who are aware that the world is not what it ought to be. Some of us are more deeply aware of this now more than they have ever been in their entire lives, and we realize, indeed, we long for the ability to sing “the weary world rejoices” and mean it. A Weary World was written before Covid but it feels as up to date as anything. It is for those who are hurting and who want to be honest about what is happening in our lives and in our culture
Escobar is a progressive faith leader who we respect. She is co-pastor of The Refuge, a congregation in Denver, and author of Down We Go (about servanthood, sacrifice, and what Henri Nouwen called “downward mobility”), Faith Shift (with the subtitle, “Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart”) and, recently Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World which is excellent. She has helped lead “Blue Christmas” services at her church for years and, yet, a year ago, needed it especially herself as she and her family experienced the sudden death of her college age son to suicide. As the back cover promises, “Escobar helps us honor our struggles during the holidays.” Oh yes, it sure does.
But, again, this is not just for those who have memories of personal loss during the holidays, although it is that. She understands the nearly painful longing for renewal that is Advent at its deepest. She longs for a world made new, understands the hoped for shalom of new creation. She knows that the beloved community of the church is a refuge, and maybe even a harbinger of the good news coming.
A Weary World has prayers and spiritual practices. There are extra digital content (for worship or online study groups) at www.wjkbooks.com/AWearyWorld.
Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-With-Us Then, Here, and Now Scott Erickson (Zondervan) $18.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
Please note, the publisher ran out of these before sending us our shipment. We had them on order but they sent their whole big batch to Amazon. We would deeply appreciate your ordering this through us and we hope to get them out within a week, even though we do not have them here, yet. Thanks for supporting indie bookstores and the uphill battles we often face.
Talk about eagerly awaiting, longing to see something, patience? I’ve been waiting for this book for a year. Scott is a pal who shows up at the CCOs Jubilee Conference every February doing creative workshops on the life of an artist, using the creative process to enhance the spiritual life, and serving the conference by spontaneously painting along with the main stage keynote talks, creating new large paintings captures the conference themes of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
He and our good friend Justin McRoberts conceived the idea for doing a book together (which led to another) right in the book display at Jubilee a few years back. Those two books — Prayer: Forty Days of Practice and May It Be So: Forty Days with the Lord’s Prayer have been best sellers and Scott’s graphic designy, silk-screenish, art pieces enhanced Justin’s brief, allusive prayer prompts. Or, maybe, Justin’s words opened up even more of Scott’s striking images. This new Advent book has that sort of look and feel, and there is simply nothing like it.
In Honest Advent, Scott is doing the words and the images, offering an invitation to ponder with profound honesty the call to image the consequences of God becoming human, of this divine act of solidarity with we feeble humans. God with us? Here, now? It is such a mystery, such a glorious wonder, that words are hardly adequate. Having an artist invite us to this meditative process during this time of year is such a gift. That its a guy as fun, creative, honest, raw, and at times tersely prophetic, makes this book, with these artful designs, a remarkable gift. That he is candid about the feminine aspects of much of the Christmas story is extraordinary. Wow.
There is something so enticingly refreshing about the perspective and conversation of Advent through the feminine lens. Scott Erickson’s reflection of the Advent season through the connection of the misrepresented women in the Savior story not only is healing and restorative but also brings us back into the story, where the feminine and the divine have always been.– Arielle Estoria, poet, author, speaker
Scott Erickson’s iconographic works serve as portals to the ‘kingdom of heaven within us.’ In this collection of art and reflection, we’re reminded what makes our hearts that heaven–the God who comes nearer than we are to ourselves. I’ll be opening these doors with wonder and gratitude. Thanks, Scott, you’re such a good doorman! — Brad Jersak, author of Incarnation & Inclusion, Abba & Lamb
Unto Us a Child Is Born: Isaiah, Advent, and Our Jewish Neighbors Tyler D. Mayfield (Eerdmans) $19.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
This one is not a daily devotional or weekly study, really, but a serious, ten-chapter book that studies the classic Advent (often messianic) texts from Isaiah, but read with a sensitive and well-informed double vision, in light of Jewish and Christian interpretations. The first chapter puts it nicely, “Isaiah through bifocals.” (Ahhh, if you are interested in this, ask us about the brand new major hardback by Amy-Jill Levine entitled The Bible with and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently.)
Unto Us a Child is Born explores well known passages (at least most of them, I would hope are well known.) As the back cover puts it,
Whether through a hymn, Handel’s Messiah, or the lectionary reading, the book of Isaiah provides a familiar voice for congregations during the season of Advent. So how do we create faithful, Christian interpretations of Isaiah for today while respecting the interpretations of our Jewish neighbors?
Integrating biblical scholarship with pastoral concern, Tyler Mayfield invites readers to view Isaiah through two lenses. He demonstrates using near vision to see how the Christian liturgical season of Advent shapes readings of Isaiah and using far vision to clarify our relationship to Jews and Judaism–showing along the way how near vision and far vision are both required to read Isaiah clearly and responsibly.
There is, as you might expect, a great forward by Walter Brueggemann. It’s only a few pages, but don’t miss it.
Preparing Room: An Advent Companion Russell J. Levenson, Jr. (Church Publishing) $16.95 || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56
Levenson is a respected and beloved Episcopal priest who has served parishes in Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Florida, although he now serves as rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. Episcopalians seem to know how to help us understand Advent, and this daily devotional is quite nice. He’s a good, reflective writer. (His friend Max Lucado says, “Whenever Russ speaks or writes, I listen or read. He has the heart of a pastor and the skill of a poet.”)
He’s interested here in the various sources of the Christmas story — Matthew and Luke, of course, have lots of Older Testament references but John harkens back to Genesis. Christmas is part of a larger narrative and this book reminds us of the Biblical stories that fall into place. He is wide-ranging in his reading and citations, but is faithful (and relies a bit on the British evangelical John Stott.) There are black and white art pieces and some occasional illustration. He gets practical, too, with clear-eyed insight about how God’s grace can be life-giving.
Russell Levenson wants to connect faith to living. I am sure that anyone reading and using this Advent book will find their walk closer to Jesus, the one we anticipate this season.” –The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, Dean and President, Virginia Theological Seminary
Into the Heart of Advent: Twenty-five Conversations with Jesus Penelope Wilcock (SCPK) $15.00 || OUR SALE PRICE = $12.00
We so enjoy featuring each year some of the books we can import from the UK publisher, SPCK. (Thanks, IVP!) They are often exceptionally interesting, well done, not too pricey, usually, either. This one looks to be no exception, a fabulously fascinating set of conversations. Imagine meeting up with Jesus for coffee and some heart-to-heart conversation. They entice you with this very question: What you say to him? What might he say to you?
As it says on the back cover,
Penelope Wilcock invites you to listen in on twenty-five conversations she’s had with jesus about the Christian journey and the meaning of Advent.
They delve into many areas: children and families, gifts and graces, angels, homes, homelessness and hospitality — and more besides.
Penelope Wilcock can do this nicely, by the way, because her main job for many years has been to be a storyteller. We loved her “Hawk and Dove” novels that were first published decades ago by Crossway here in the states, and later re-issued and imported. So she’s a fine writer, an imaginative thinker, this creative seasonal devo will please many who like something just a little different.
Adverbs for Advent: Quiet Reflections for a Noisy Time Marilyn McEntyre (Resource Publications) $9.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
This is not new this year, but I so wanted to remind you of it, since we raved in the last BookNotes about her remarkable recent book about lessons learned about “caring for words” by paying attention to good writers she admires, the one called Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict. Ms. McEntyre has a few eagerly anticipated ones in the pipeline — a book about being a medical patient and a Lenten devotional — but this one is lesser known, it seems. Maybe you’ve read her lovely and interesting What’s in a Phrase?: Pausing Where Scripture Gives You Pause; this is sort of an Advent version of that in that is it literary and allusive and generous, but it is dissimilar, too, because it is not based on Biblical texts. It offers short ruminations on these action-rich adverbs, including pieces entitled “Live Boldly,” “Live Patiently,” “Live Harmoniously,” and “Live Repentantly.” Oh, there are so many others, calls to “Live Beautifully,” and “Live Healthily,” and “Live Playfully.”
Some of you, especially clergy and preachers, may recall a review I did of a book by the Rev. Dr. Russell Mitman, a liturgically-wise UCC clergyman and retired Conference Minister, Preaching Adverbially. Marilyn McEntyre’s lovely, short Adverbs for Advent reminds me of that excellently and playful homiletics book. Let’s hear it for Adverbs!
A Light Has Dawned: Meditations on Advent and Christmas The Best of Christianity Today (Lexham Press) $28.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $23.19
Oh my, what a great collection of devotionals and essays, another one of these recent Lexham volumes that draws from the decades of published CT pieces. And what rich stuff there is here. This really is “the best of the best” (as Leland Ryken, Emeritus English prof from Wheaton College put it.) It starts with a very nice introductory essay by singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends. (She, by the way, released a few years ago a specifically Advent album with the title, borrowed from Madeline L’Engle, “The Irrational Season.”) Carolyn has another piece in the volume, too.
A Light Has Dawned has great articles (starting at Advent and up to January 6th) from the history of CT so it goes back to the 1950s and 60s by the likes of Billy Graham, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Addison Leitch, and Frank Gaebelein.
Others that became famous authors later in the 20th century are well-represented. There are substantial pieces by Eugene Peterson, the theologian Helmut Thielicke, Walter Wangerin, Philip Yancey, Elizabeth Elliott. There are highly liturgical authors like the late Tom Howard and those from non-denominational backgrounds. There are artful writers like Alice Lawhead and Wendy Murray Zoba and a rare one by Mike Mason, whose books we adore. I love that there is a 1996 piece by environmentalist writer/activist Bill McKibben, and a fiesty contribution by Brazos Press founder Rodney Clapp — “Let the Pagans Have the Holidays.” I’m eager to read the one by the late Stan Grenz.
And there’s a classic (in my memory, at least) is included by David Neff, who wrote “Misreading the Magnificat” with the subtitle, “It’s hard to find hymns that embody Scripture’s sharp critique of the rich.”
There are several chapters by fairly recent writers, too. Of course Katlyn Beatty is included, and we have a great one by Tim Keller. I’m eager to read Jen Pollock Michel’s piece “Not Yet Home for Christmas” and Kent Hughes’s “The Magi’s Worship.”
This may be destined to become a classic, perhaps in league with our perennial best seller, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas from Plough Publishing.
Approaching Christmas Jane Williams (Lion-Hudson Press) $16.95 || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56
Do you remember that in the last few Advent BookNotes columns the last few years we’ve highlighted The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany published by SPCK? We love that book and it has always sold nicely. We have it this year, again, of course. That little paperback was by Jane Williams — the art historian wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, by the way. Well, we recently discovered this one, an earlier book she did that includes lovely seasonal meditations each accompanied by classic artwork. This is a small hardback with glossy paper, and lots of full color art and photography.
The chapters of this handsome book focus on the things we all associate with Christmas, such as making lists decorations, gifts, Christmas trees, music, food and family. However, in the hands of this woman who is a tutor in Theology at St. Mellitus College, London, and a Visiting Lecturer at Kings College, this is no trivial pursuit. She weaves stories and spiritual reflections, Biblical observations and imaginative theology to help us deepen our awareness of the riches of the season.
Keeping Christmas: 25 Advent Reflections on A Christmas Carol Allison Pittman (Baker) $16.99 || OUR SALE PRICE $13.59
Some of our faithful Hearts & Minds friends joined us and Plough Publishing a while back as I interviewed on Facebook Live our friend Gina Delfonzo, who this fall released The Gospel in Dickens: Selections from His Works (Plough Publishing; $18.00.) Along with Karen Swallow Prior (author of On Reading Well: The Good Life through Good Books) the two women taught us about the value and joy of reading the often complicated stories of the great Charles Dickens. In that virtual launch party we all agreed that this holiday season we would do well to take up the famous (but not always read) A Christmas Carol.
Well, this is the brand new tool you could use to walk you through that, a devotional based on the legendary novel. Allison Pittman is herself a novelist (including Stealing Home, Loving Luther, and The Seamstress.) She has won a number of awards and teaches high school literature at a Christian school, “illuminating the Christian worldview found in all manner of literature, both sacred and secular.”
This lovely volume as a purple padded cover and the entries seem both upbeat and entertaining (she is an energetic and colorful writer) and, yet, contemplative, thoughtful. As it says on the back cover, this entertaining read,
…is the perfect companion for those dark winter nights as we eagerly await the coming celebration of Christmas when, like Scrooge, we are given the gift of reflection, repentance, and life anew.
The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations Howard Thurmond (Friends United Press) $14.99 || OUR SALE PRICE =$11.99
This is not new and it is not the first year we’ve stocked it, but I wanted to be sure folks knew about it. Perhaps you saw my little video announcement on facebook highlighting some titles I was excited about this fall where I gave an enthusiastic shout out to the new biography of the great black contemplative leader, entitled How Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography by Paul Harvey (Eerdmans; $28.99.) We are glad a number of folks these past hard months have ordered Thurman’s own classic, Jesus and the Disinherited, a book Dr. Martin Luther King often carried with him as a personal favorite. One of the greatest compliments someone once paid us was when they asked if we named our store after Dr. Thurman’s 1980s autobiography With Head and Heart. Not quite.
The Mood of Christmas was first released in 1973 by Harper Brothers (who had done some of Dr. King’s books.) It includes over 150 entries, some pieces longer than others, and some seasonal poems. It of course has much to do with the Biblical narrative, but he moves in a radical direction of inclusion, embrace, hospitality, unity, fellowship. His famous “I Will Light Candels This Christmas” goes like this:
Candles of joy, despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year.
At the time of his death in 1981, Thurman was Dean Emeritus of Marsh Chapel, Boston University. Previously he had served Morehouse College in Atlanta and was famously at Howard University. We stock almost all of his many books.
Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas Ace Collins (Zondervan) $14.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
Do you know Ace Collins’s fun other books? He is a master of this genre of telling the back stories behind songs and hymns. He’s also a colorful novelist and apparantly born storyteller. A year or so ago a number of our customers enjoyed Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas which included the fascinating stories and origins behind Christmas traditions such as the colors of red and green, the Christmas tree, caroling, nativity scenes, the Yule log, gift-giving, stockings, advent wreaths, mistletoe, holly. What fun!
This new one offers31 short pieces explaining what was going on as the song-writer penned songs as diverse as “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” (noting where the comma is, btw) and “Angles from the Realms of Glory” and Isaac Watt’s powerful “Joy to the World.”
Some of us need to know the mysterious origins of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” It’s interested to hear Mary Lowry talk about “Mary Did You Know?” and even the background of tunes like “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Song.” Nice.
The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season Barbara Mahany (Abingdon Press) $19.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
We did not know this author until we brought in the book Motherprayer which we liked a lot. Also, the devotional The Blessings of Motherprayer. We really liked Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door. She’s a nuanced and thoughtful writer who has honed her craft of the short essay through her work as journalist and writer for The Chicago Tribune. There, in that esteemed venue, her revered page-two columns have shown her heart and as she told her stories and the stories of her family’s life that have drawn in thousands of readers for decades. As her bio says, “Bracingly honest and heartachingly daring, she explores the sacred mysteries with a voice recognizable and clear. Barbara is a sought-after speaker, retreat leader, writing teacher.”
This is one of those books that isn’t exactly a Biblical Advent study or a Christmas book, really. It is billed as “a spiritual guide to winter.” One of the reasons I was drawn to it and wanted to share it with our customers is because it sort of brought to mind one of our best sellers of recent years, the lovely and artful (yes, it even has art pieces) book called All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss and illustrator David Klein (Paraclete Press; $18.99) which is about hibernating animals, and the equally wonderful Lenten reader Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing (Paraclete; $19.99) which draws on the crisis of animal extinction. Those two books are unusual and powerful and evocative of so much. I’m guessing that The Stillness of Winter by Barbara Mahany is similar.
The Stillness of Winter is a smallish compact sized hardback. It is handsome and would make a nice gift, especially for one who may not need a directly Biblical Christmasy book. There are some nice illustrations and drawings in maroon ink, and a rich, wine-colored ribbon marker. It does have some activities, even recipes. Despite the shorter days and darker nights, this could be fun.
We recommend you also take a look at this previous BookNotes from last year (Advent 2019 – kids list) that lists some good books for your little ones. You can use the search box at the website to find other topics or titles from past BookNotes that I might have reviewed.
We will be doing another BookNotes recommending children’s books about the holiday in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.
Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred Traci Smith (Chalice Press) $12.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
This is a nice holiday companion to the popular Faithful Families: Creation Sacred Moments at Home. It offers 100 nifty ideas, some pretty ordinary that anybody would do, some a bit more extensive that are thoughtful and good, and a few that are a bit, uh, unique. Not everyone will “get” each one, granted. Even if you do a few of these or ponder a few others, this book is worth its inexpensive price. Give it a try.
In each of these simple, hands-on practices, Smith gives families the tools to slow down, wait, and focus on all that Jesus coming into the world means. — Karyn Rivadeneira, author, Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible
A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives. I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says to “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!”
May you know Barbara Reaoch’s pervious book from 2018, A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas; this is arranged very similarly and is a great company to it.
It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel’. There is a helpful question and even a space for journalling. (Unless you have a huge family, each member can share this space, which could be fun.)
Here are what some stellar folks have said about it:
This is yet another outstanding family devotional book for the Christmas season by Barbara Reaoch. If you’ve been blessed by any of her previous books, you’ll enjoy this one as well. She has a knack for starting with something interesting to children and quickly turning it to Jesus and the Bible. This one will appeal both to younger and older children, and parts of each chapter are directed to both groups. The book is imaginatively interactive as well; not just something for kids to listen to. Best of all is how she conveys 25 core truths about Christ in a simple way to show the children how Jesus is Better Than Anything. –Donald S. Whitney (Professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. Author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Praying the Bible, and Family Worship.
In a world where Christmas is more commercialized than ever before, it is all too easy for parents to drown in the noise of it all. Barbara Reaoch’s A Better Than Anything Christmas is a welcome and refreshing opportunity for parents to zero in on what is truly important: the gospel. The daily advent readings and questions make for excellent family discussions around who Jesus is and why He came. We loved Barbara’s A Jesus Christmas for how it offered our children an opportunity to grapple with big doctrinal ideas in a way that was easily digestible, even cross-culturally. I look forward to sharing A Better Than Anything Christmas with the family this Christmas, most especially for how it promotes theologically robust discussion and a deepening and enduring understanding of God’s Word. From toddlers to teens, this devotional offers far greater value than even the most beautifully wrapped packages beneath the tree. –Taryn Hayes (podcast co-host, The Gospel Coalition Australia’s The Lydia Project: Conversations with Christian Women)
Christmas is Coming! But Waiting is Hard! Family Activities and Devotions for Advent Karen Whiting (Abingdon Press) $16.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
This book is not new but we wanted to highlight it for you; some of our customers are looking or useful resources that have basic lessons and conversation-starters and crafty type little activities for young ones. This author used to work for Focus on the Family and has developed curriculum for others who want to share basic Christian insight for children. (She was a producer and host of a puppet show on public TV in Miami — yay!)
Besides the reading, each day’s entry includes a prayer, discussion questions, explanation of a Christmas symbol, some reproducibles to help with the symbol activity, and suggested activities to put the Scriptures into action.
The 25 Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional to Help You Celebrate Jesus James Merritt, illustrated by Connie Gabbert (Harvest House) $19.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
This was a big hit a couple of years ago not only for its solid, Biblical content but for the rich artwork, nice cloth hardback feel. It’s 9 x 12, so bigger than most (although not thick.) It will be a keepsake edition. Merritt is a Southern Baptist pastor and co-host of a TV show. He’s written bunches of books.
The 25 Days of Christmas has a story to read aloud each day and an activity — things to do, discover, apply.
The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas Dean Meador Lambert (Abingdon Press) $17.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is an old classic that originally came out in the mid-1980s. We used to sell it widely and encouraged folks to do this great project of creating ornaments that each are related to an Old Testament text that lead up to the Christmas story. What a great way to teach the history of redemption and the unfolding drama of salvation history. It has a new hardback cover, now. The writing here is a bit old-fashioned, the black and white illustrations even more-so; they were old-fashioned when they were in the first edition. Vintage, eh? Still, the idea is solid. We enjoy letting people know about this. These are devotions based on the Biblical texts and symbols but not a craft book to make the symbols for the Jesse Tree.
(Let us know if we can help you with that; there are several.)
By the way, Concordia Press (who do the beloved “Arch Books”) has a new paperback kids book this year called Jesse Tree: Jesus’ Family Tree ($3.49) which should be here any day. I’m sure it’s nice.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
This is a contemporary classic, beloved and used by many. It is colorful and excellently made. It is playing on the old Jesse Tree custom. It has vivid, full-color illustrations, downloadable ornaments, and moving scenes from the Bible. As the publisher says, “Person by person, story by story, retrace the lineage of Jesus. Fall in love with Him all over again as you experience God’s plan of salvation for us–from the Garden of Eden to the manger and beyond.” This is a an oversized hardback, like a coffee table book, a real keepsake.
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $34.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99 We’ve exclaimed about this before, a beautifully designed, big, lavish hardback with pop-up features and lots of extras that serves as a contemporary take on the old Jess Tree tradition. There’s a little devotional by Voskamp for each of the ornaments. Here’s how they describe it:
- 13-inch 3D pop-up tree
- Devotional booklet with 25 family devotions written by Ann Voskamp
- 24 Christmas tree ornaments with hangers
- Star-shaped tree-topper
Based on her bestseller Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp expands her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree with this beautiful keepsake that can be handed down and enjoyed for generations.
Each December, families can celebrate the coming of Jesus by opening the book to see a stunning 13-inch, three-dimensional Jesse Tree pop up from the page. At its foot are 25 doors, one for each day of Advent, which hide meaningful, beautifully detailed ornaments–including the Christmas star–that are ready to be hung on the tree.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season inspired by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago, narrated by David Suchet (ZOnderkidz) $24.99 || OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96
Oh my goodness, we’ve saved the best for last. We are so excited to tell you about this. It will be the lead title when we do another BookNotes post soon that features nice books to give to children this holiday season. This Sally Lloyd-Jones Christmas Collection, though, really is one to use during Advent so we wanted to announce it here, now. It is, of course, at our 20% off sale price.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season is one of those great books that is oversized and handsome and has a battery/computer gadget thingie that speaks or plays music when a child presses the button. There is narration, and there are excerpts of four Christmas carols that fit well into the appropriate pages. Kids love these interactive books and we are so happy about this. That it spreads out widely in the lap is great, too. Kudos, Zonderkidz!
They say this is for ages 4 – 8 but I can imagine a slightly older kid reading it herself. And a slightly younger one could press the buttons and smile at the music, so I’m going to suggest this, being a bit optimistic, for ages 3 – 10.
There are key moments to “press the button” throughout and it will bring hours of pleasure and spiritual formation for children and families using this very cool new product. We’re excited. And the art is cool, whimsical without being silly or sentimental.
You should know that we adore the Jesus Storybook Bible and while there are other children’s story Bibles that we like a lot, we are especially fond of the creative art and excellent writing of this one. And the framework and theological perspective — “Every Story Whispers His Name” — shows the interconnectedness of the Bible stories that unfold and point to the promises fulfilled in Christ. It’s really good. And Advent is the perfect time to plumb those obvious interconnections.
This new edition has new content that is explicitly Advent themed. Highly recommended.
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