I want to open this 2023 Advent book list with a heart-felt appreciation for the customers and friends who wrote thoughtful, supportive (and occasionally scolding) replies after my last BookNotes listing some recent books about war and peace from a Christian perspective and a handful about Jewish, Palestinian, and Christian perspective on the going crisis in the Middle East. As Israel’s war to root out Hamas terrorists continues, the savagery is to be lamented and only the most heartless or ideologically-driven are glib about the sorrows and complexity in this sad situation. Our friends understand this and we are grateful.
Our customers are exceptional folks and even though I am sure many would disagree with one another on this, and with me — some thinking I’m too critical of Israel, others thinking I’m too generous to them — we keep reading widely, talking together, trying to figure out a faithful response. We listen to scholars and ethicists, theologians and wise Christians who have worked hard to develop Biblically-informed, nonpartisan perspectives. We listen to the hurting and the fearful, especially. Sometimes, poets and novelists, and memoirists and journalists, say it best. In any case, thanks for being such a great crew of customers who read books about the world God so loves. Beth and I and our staff are grateful. We hope we are helpful in your long obedience in the same direction.
Please know we have a large selection of a variety of Advent and Christmas books which we have written about in past years. I’d love for you to study those BookNotes columns, here, here, here, here, or here. I like this one a lot, too, here. You’ll find treasures including things like the great poetry volume God Speaks Through Wombs: Poems on God’s Unexpected Coming by black poet and justice advocate Drew Jackson and the popular, liturgical poems and devotional reflections of Anglican priest Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany and classics like Watch for the Light from Plough Publishing. From Fleming Rutledge to Tim Keller, you’ll find something to ponder. A few of the older items may, in fact, be out of print, and we don’t have everything we have ever mentioned, but do study those older lists and see if something seems right for you and yours. Prices may have changed, naturally. Happy reading.
We will do a list full of fun children’s books for Christmas later in December.
BOOKS FOR ADVENT 2023
The new church year begins with Advent Sunday on December 3rd. Here are some anticipated book suggestions about, well, anticipation. But first, some about this whole liturgical calendar thing. Here we go.
Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse Paul Louis Metzger (Cascade) $34.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $27.20
I’m starting here for two reasons, at least. First, this is an absolutely fantastic devotional with some excellent Advent content, one I can hardly speak of with enough vigor and enthusiasm. I’m absolutely not just saying this because I did a Facebook Live session with Paul around his previous IVP Academic Book More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture when it first released last August. Granted, I loved that heady book and came to admire the author very much (and had a blast chatting with him.) But, no, I’m not just pushing the work of a friend. I really, really value Setting the Spiritual Clock and think it adds much to the conversations on these themes about the importance of understanding time and the flow of our days. There is hardly anything like it (as Gordon Lathrop implied in a fabulous Christian Century review.) I will speak in greater detail in another BookNotes, soon.
We are doing another Facebook Live gathering on the evening of Tuesday, November 28th where I interview Paul about this book (REGISTER HERE.) and I couldn’t be happier, set, as it will be, right after Christ Our King Sunday and what will then be the week before the first Sunday of Advent. Paul, an ecumenically-informed, learned evangelical scholar, will tell us why the church calendar is important, how understanding sacred time helps us focus our lives around the life of Jesus. It’s going to be fun (really) and I invite you to stay alert for our next column all about it. You can register now for this free event by clicking HERE.
Setting the Spiritual Clock is not a just an Advent devotional although there are a good handful of excellent devotional readings for the season. It covers the whole year, so you’ll find good pieces on Christmas and Epiphany as well. From there, he has smart and theologically wise reflections on all the major church seasons (and a few other important days, from Black History Month to Mothers Day to a fascinating entry on Hanukkah. We all worry about the “secular creep” in our lives and not only has Paul read Charles Taylor (and Jamie Smith’s important How (Not) to be Secular), he realizes the one of the great tools to resist is keeping the ecclesial year. This is part of our spiritual formation and, as Kristen Deede Johnson of Western Seminary puts it, “This is a gem of a book…. Its content deserves to be mined and treasured as we seek to follow Jesus in these complex cultural and political moments.”
More info will be coming soon, but if you get this hefty volume you not only get some great ruminations on Advent and Christmas and Epiphanytide, but more than 275 pages on the whole year through. Whether you are in a high liturgical church, part of a more moderate mainline Protestant congregation, or worship in a free-flowing nondenominational auditorium, this is a book that “serves as a guide and traveling companion for the liturgical year, which circles the glorious Son as he breaks through the secular eclipse.” Fantastic.
Speaking of the liturgical calendar, I hope you recall us speaking of this marvelous set of small books (curated by Esau McCaulley) called “The Fullness of Time” series. There are not daily devotionals, as such, but are short studies of each particular season. Some of you have gotten Esau’s 2022 inaugural volume in the series, Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal and Emily Alvarez’s Pentecost: A Day of Power for All People that came out last Spring. Both were quite good.
But the next three are spectacular.
Advent: The Season of Hope Tish Harrison Warren (IVP) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00 out of stock
Already this season, many have gotten from us the brilliant Advent:The Season of Hope, which is so wonderfully written it made me weep. I love the Advent season and all its yearning and longing for new creation and I admire Tish a lot. Her husband Jonathan helped a bit, making this the best little overview of the significance of Advent I have ever read. I very highly recommend it. As one reviewer put it, “Her effort to ‘make Christmas weird again’ succeeds from start to finish.” Alas, we are out of it now, but I felt like I needed to name it, for the record.
[Please note: we are out of this item, as is the publisher and they have no more to send to us for now. It seems a large, faceless online seller bought up more than they need, as is their habit, so smaller stores can’t get inventory. Be that as it may or may not be, we are hoping against hope, awaiting more, and promise to keep you posted. It seems that there won’t be more until next year.]
Much like Mozart’s music and Shakespeare’s plays, the season of Advent satisfies at so many different levels–theologically, imaginatively, affectively, ethically, liturgically, and so on. In this beautifully compact book, Tish Harrison Warren invites readers to experience the multilevel richness of Advent and to discover thereby the full richness of the triune God. Tolle lege, friends; take up and read, and let Christ himself fill you to the fullest with a life that was and is and is yet to come. — W. David O. Taylor, associate professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, author of Open and Unafraid
Christmas: The Season of Life and Light Emily Hunter McGowin (IVP) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
Oh my, this is so fantastic I am reading it through for my second time. Like the others in this great series, it combines some historical information (so interesting!) and personal anecdotes (McGowin is, happily, quite a zany Christmas person.) But its greatest strength is the clearly explained but fairly deep theological truths of the season. From her reflections on the speculations about the dating of Jesus’s birth (I don’t think I ever quite understood this but there are good reasons) and her discussion of the nature of incarnation, Christmas is simply one of the best seasonal books I’ve ever read. It is short and solid, thoughtful and enjoyable, wise and serious, even with her fun stories.
Theologically rich, historically anchored, liturgically alert, socially alert, wide ranging, culturally connected, and all this always with an eye on the church–such expressions reveal the value of this small, timely, and wonderful book about Christmas. Buy it during Advent, wrap it up under the tree, and give your friends or family a gift that will stimulate their faith during Christmastide. The gift of Christmas will be made more generous by the gift of this book. — Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, author of The Audacity of Peace
I’ve wanted to make Christmas more spiritual without nagging about nonreligious symbols or being an impolite guest while partygoers sip champagne to the melody of ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.’ Thank you, Emily, for showing the way! Christmas: The Season of Life and Light both reveals the history and mystery of the birth of Jesus and shows us how to celebrate it in truly spiritual ways. —Todd Hunter, founding bishop of the diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others, author of What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion
Epiphany: The Season of Glory Fleming Rutledge (IVP) $20.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.00
Well, if Tish Warren’s warm but serious study of Advent made me cry and McGowin’s remarkable study, Christmas, made me gape in wonder, this brand new one by the great Fleming Rutledge is nothing short of spectacular. I was so very glad when I heard that she was invited to contribute to this series — how could she not be included! — and while she has the magisterial, definitive collection of sermons on Advent and Holy Week (in Advent and , respectively) she has not written much about Epiphany.
I have skimmed this already, not really wanting to study and underline and ponder its glory quite yet — it feels like cheating — but I can tell you that it is substantive, serious, excellently researched, loaded with Bible exploration and preacherly cadences. It is just over 160 pages (granted, the compact sized hardback isn’t huge) and she offers wisdom, insight, some rebuke, some warning, and lots of very good news. This little release is, in fact, a huge publishing event. I don’t know if it is Fleming’s last book but it is important and to be cherished.
In Epiphany: The Season of Glory, Rev. Fleming Rutledge shows how recovering a delight in the glory of God in Jesus Christ is ‘needed by the church right now as a drowning person needs a lifeboat.’ Written with joyful urgency yet patient wisdom, this book should be required reading for pastors seeking to recover the wonder of Epiphany. Veterans and newcomers to celebrating the liturgical year will find a treasure of biblical and theological insight in this succinct yet potent work. Moreover, anyone who aches for an alternative to the empty ‘glories’ so widely pursued today will be nourished by this exposition of the strange yet beautiful reality of God’s resplendent glory, displayed in the crucified Lord. — J. Todd Billings, professor of theology at Western Theological Seminary, author of The End of the Christian Life
With palpable reverence and predictable erudition, Fleming Rutledge unearths the riches of the most overlooked season of the liturgical year. Epiphany is all about glory, chiefly the glory of the person of Christ revealed in majesty and power as the King of the Jews and Lord of the Gentiles in key moments of the biblical drama. In Epiphany and the season leading up to Lent, the church gathers a fresh chance to behold the glory of her Lord and to renew itself in the work of proclaiming his glory to the world. — Katelyn Beaty, journalist, author of Celebrities for Jesus
The First Advent in Palestine: Reveals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope Kelley Nikondeha (Broadleaf) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
I won’t say much, but we raved last year, and highlighted it in our previous BookNotes on titles to read to understand some of the situation in Palestine. Have you ever heard of the “Women Behind the Wall” podcast, produced by Shadia Quit, a Palestinian Christian peacemaker? She says of this that Kelley “makes the Palestinian experience visible in a world that has made them invisible. If you are looking for an Advent read that divers into new and raw paths, then The First Advent in Palestine is for you.”
I recommended this last year and one globally-known, internationally-influential Christian leader got it from me. He wrote the other day to remind me how much he appreciated it, truly one of the best books on the Nativity, he said, that he had ever read. So there ya go. Now, with the Gaza war sadly not over, we commend this more than ever.
Naim Ateek (director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem) writes that many Palestinian Christians “connect with the Holy Family” during Advent. It makes sense, given that Jesus was born to parents on the margins of society, where ruling powers sent death squads to kill the baby. In this age of massacres and Middle Eastern atrocities, Kelley’s amazing book should be on the top of your list.
Fully Human, Fully Divine: An Advent Devotion for the Whole Self Whitney R. Simpson (Upper Room Books) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
I could write a lot about this but I’ll just say that it is by the founder of Exploring Peace Ministries and it is holistic, thoughtful, full of vivid insights about our senses. It is a four-week devotional that “invites you to embrace this opportunity and experience an embodied Advent.” With guided prompts, exercise suggestions, prayer suggestions and full color art to ponder, this really does lead readers though daily contemplative practices (such as breath prayer, mindful movement, lectio divina) engaging the whole body.
The Afro-centric art in Fully Human… is done by Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman, Director of Branding and Founding Creative Partner of Sanctified Art, a multi-media ministry.
The Advent of Glory: 24 Devotions for Christmas R.C. Sproul (The Good Book Company) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
Those that know very much about us know that I was in some ways influenced by R.C. back when I was still in college, and then in campus ministry, in Western Pennsylvania, when the famous Reformed theologian and wonderkid was still in Ligonier, PA. Part heavy, Puritan scholar, part North American Francis Schaeffer, I was a dumb enough punk to argue with him about any number of things (and I recall it was Sprouly that turned me on to the classic Jonathan Edwards volume on serving the poor, Charity and Its Fruits. Years later he would remind me that he was friends with rock star Alice Cooper.)
Be that as it may, Sproul’s dramatic voice here is much-loved and he offers thoughtful, doctrinally astute, evangelical messages, coupled with prayers by Sinclair Ferguson, Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Lawson, Tim Challies, Rosemary Jenson, and others. Each chapter has a one-word title, drawn from the Christmas narratives. It’s good, even if no quotes from Alice Cooper.
A Radiant Birth: Advent Readings for a Bright Season edited by Leslie Leyland Fields and Paul J. Willis (IVP) $22.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.60
This may be my favorite new devotional this year — okay, it is! — and I think many of our BookNotes readers will love it. If you’ve thrilled to the literate glory of the good essays in God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe) or loved the theological breadth of the must-have Plough volume, Watch for the Light, this, then, is, quite simply, the best new volume in years. Kudos to the great Alaskan writer Leslie Leyland Fields and her co-editor and colleagues at IVP for pulling together such an amazing volume.
This reader of short reflections (and some poems) offers wise and beautiful pieces by Richard Foster, Matthew Dickerson, Tania Runyan, Lauren Winner, Philip Yancey, Walter Wangerin, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, Marilyn McEntryre, Madeleine L’Engle and other top-notch mostly evangelical writers. I was thrilled to see Dordt College’s James Calvin Schaap and older readers may know Jill Pelaz Baumgaertner. I’m a fan of poet and outdoorsman John Leax and the philosopher and memoirist Daniel Taylor. I was glad to see moderns Diane Glancy and Sarah Arthur, right alongside a piece by St. John Chrysostom. A Radian Birth is imaginative, a bit contemplative, yet often vivid, as befits this season of incarnation. Hooray.
This is destined to become a true classic. You might want to order more than one.
Star of Wonder: An Advent Devotional to Illuminate the People, Places, and Purposes of the First Christmas Angela Hunt (Bethany House) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I ordered this sight unseen, knowing the author is a fine storyteller and writer. We knew it would be engaging, uplifting, fun, even, if captivating in a way that brings forth wonder — and the realities — of the first Christmas. With a deft endorsement from evangelical novelist Francine Rivers (who says it is “written with passion, showing patterns and prophecies that filled me with renewed hope and wonder”) you’ll know it is touching, straight forward, but lovely. The author “weaves together visceral storytelling and overlooked biblical historical truths.”
I take that back — it isn’t fully straight-forward, although it is not obscure and it is not overly poetic or clever. This is just good, engaging stuff, with Scriptural insights and nicely explained historical truths to help us learn about the “people places and things” of the grand drama leading up to the Nativity.
Explore Bethlehem and Nazareth. Walk with Mary, Joseph, and others, Be amazed by the words of the prophets of old. And be warmed by God’s great purpose that culminated in the birth of the Messiah.
I really like the woodcuts that accompany each chapter, giving it a classy sort of feel. Nice.
Light From Afar: An Advent Devotional from Around the World Nadiyka Gerbish, Joel Bengbeng, Claudio Carvalhaes & Sidwell Mokgothu (Upper Room Books) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
There is nothing like this as far as we know, quite apart from the fact that one author is from Ukraine, and serves to be supported. Advent is, of course, celebrated differently throughout the world. As it says on the back cover, “Some cultures barely observe the waiting and focus on the Christmas celebration. Others feel deeply the contrast between present circumstances and God’s promise of a better future, making for a season of fasting and prayer.”
Nicely, almost everyone focuses on Christ as the Light of the world.
Light from Afar is a daily Advent devotional that illuminates the season from the unforgettable stories and reflection of four writers who are themselves from four very different global settings.
One writer is from Ukraine, one from the Philippines, one is from Brazil and one from South Africa. Each share cultural and religious traditions of the Advent season in their pieces, including a Scripture reading and prayer. A cool feature is a link to a song from the author’s home country.
Heaven and Earth: Advent and the Incarnation Will Willimon (Abingdon Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I suppose many readers of BookNotes know the name William Willimon. A few weeks ago I highlighted his clever ABC book of Christian belief called God Turned Toward Us. He has done major, big volumes, and smaller, inspirational volumes. He is known for calling us to complete dedication to Christ’s Kingdom and has written with charm but substance on everything from preaching to worship to racism to sin to the Lord’s Prayer.
Yet, I do not think he has ever done an Advent devotional. He does have a great little book on the incarnation in the “Belief Matters” series (Incarnation: The Surprising Overlap of Heaven & Earth; $16.99 – OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59) that could warm you up to read the early church classic On the Incarnation by Athanasius — we stock that year-round. In any case, Heaven and Earth is the first Willimon book for the holidays.
It shouts out on the back cover, “Watch out. God is on the way.” He wisely continues, “It’s not within our power to make a fresh start. If we’re to have a future different from the past, it must come as a gift, something not of our devising. What we need is a God who refuses to be trapped in eternity, a God who not only cares about us but is willing to show up among us and do something with us, here and now.”
That’s gospel good news. Willimon, in a way that is both punchy and somehow comforting, introduces us to the God who does just that, “bringing heaven to earth and changing everything.”
“In Advent we celebrate and anticipate the earth-shaking, life-transforming good news that God is coming to us. Watch out. Get ready. God is on the way.”
There is also a DVD ($39.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99) of Will briefly teaching these four lessons and a separate leader’s guide to enhance conversation. ($15.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79.)
Winter Fire: Christmas with G.K Chesterton compiled and edited by Ryan Whitaker Smith (Moody Press) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
This, my dear literate readers, is what some of us have been waiting for. We know that the great G.K. wrote much about Christmas but never have I found such a clear-headed, useful, and delightful arrangement, turning his many random essays, letters, and oddball pieces (“Conderning Hearty Breakfasts and the Pleasures of Being Flung Headlong into the Sea”) into a marvelous Advent devotional. I’d say that for solid, Biblical, Advent teaching, read Fleming Rutledge to get that under your belt. The aforementioned Setting the Spiritual Clock is a must for the broader liturgical calendar.
But for sheer holiday cheer (from a bit of a curmudgeon about some things) for wit and wonder, snark and joy, philosophy and mythic story of the truest myth of all, this rare collection is hard to beat. He ruminates on the “liberal and conservative balance of Christmas” and how Christmas is an antidote to a disenchanted imagination.” He believes Christmas is “a litmus test for spiritual buoyancy” and famously noted the season’s “utter unsuitability to the modern world.” One of the readings is “In Regard to the Enormous and Overwhelming Everything.” But then, again, another offers a brief “celebration of the boomerang.” Chesterton insists that we “pause, reflect, and laugh — that we draw warmth and wonder amid the winter frost of life” Young artist and filmmaker Smith has done a marvelous job — he knows a lot about Chesterton, I can tell you that.
Listen to this marvelous Chesterton line from which Smith has drawn the title of this collection:
Chirst is not merely the summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.
Perhaps you, like many, need a winter fire. Could Christmas be “the story from which all stories draw their fire”? Smith guides you through it with added Scripture and reflection questions.
Besides 30 readings there are eleven poems, five essays, two short stories, a good number of recipes (everything from wassail and mince pies to fruit crumble, hard sauce, and giblet gravy.) Oh yes, and don’t miss “A Word on the Wholesomeness of Christmas Pudding” published in The Illustrated London News in 1906.) There is even a description by the happy Chesterton on all manner of games traditions.
As you might expect this is laden with period illustrations, lavish (if often pastel) pictures of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, and all kinds of Victorian stuff that might be seen as nearly campy, at least fun and festive. Ironic or not, this is way cool. Thee cheers and cheerio!
Stay Awhile: Advent Lessons in Divine Hospitality Kara Edison (WJK) $17.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.60
This special volume has four major chapters and then shorter ones for Christmas eve and “Christmas Day and Beyond.” Cool, thoughtful stuff, very nicely done. There are discussion questions that can be used on one’s own, but this would be good for an adult ed class or book group since it has daily readings plus these weekly conversations ideas. There is also a free code to a companion video link to enhance study and conversation for each week. Nice!
There are also in the back pages lots of suggestions for worship leaders or liturgists with prayers and liturgies and even a short Christmas Eve children’s program. She has a degree from Duke, has been a United Methodist campus ministry in the midwest, and knows how to add lots of extra resourcing to make the most of this title. Adam Hamilton says Stay Awhile brings “a scholar’s insight, a pastor’s heart, and a storyteller’s gift…” And who of us doesn’t want to learn more about the habits and practices of hospitality as a Christian witness? Very nicely done.
The Holy in the Night: Finding Freedom in a Season of Waiting Shannon W. Dycus (Herald Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
Shannon Dycus is an exceptionally thoughtful (black) Mennonite leader so, naturally, there is teaching in here hinting and Scriptural peace and justice themes, but is mostly about how we are waiting for something, and our waiting isn’t wasted. Hear that! The book is asking, in various, creative ways, a huge, provocative question: “What if we were free enough to long for God?”
The Holy in the Night follows the lectionary texts for the seasons and draws in voices of black and brown folks, inviting us all to search for God amid the waiting. It draws on deeper contemplative spirituality, with a “breath prayer” for each session. There is a thorough six-session leader’s guide for a small group, book club, or class. Like the above listed one, this is a daily reader (good for personal use) but they are grouped into six sessions. There are some responsive readings, prayer ideas, even a few sermon hints if a church is using it together. Fabulous and really useful.
An Unlikely Advent: Extraordinary People of the Christmas Story Rachel Billups (Abingdon Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is a great new resource this year and we are happy to recommend it. The author is an upbeat, conversational woman who has pastored at the United Methodist megachurch in Ginghamsburg, a quintessential place that blends the best of mainline denominational identity and evangelical fervor. You can tell in her style, which is both broadly ecumenical but warmly spiritual, inviting personal awareness of God’s action in the lives of people. Maybe even in ways that are a bit unlikely, even.
There are four weeks to the structure of An Unlikely Advent as she brings new insights about the characters of Christmas; Billups tells lively stories and cites a number of known Biblical scholars. Smart and fun.
There is a DVD, too. It says on the back “expect the unexpected this Christmas.” Billups is a good communicator and you’ll enjoy these brief lessons, leaving plenty to talk about with your group.
The An Unlikely Advent DVD sells for $39.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99) and there is a separate leader’s guide to enhance conversation. ($15.99; OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79.)
Prepare Your Heart: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation Fr. Austin Torres, illustrated by Valerie Delgado (Ave Maria Press) $11.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.56
We’ve carried each new edition of this resource each year and are happy to suggest this new one for you. (The others are excellent, too, Behold by Sr. Miriam Heidland and Adore by Fr. John Burns.) These are each guided journals that invites a close reading and meditative experience around the Biblical text. There are questions for consideration, prayer prompts, some nice, bright, almost icon-like contemporary artwork/illustration, and some lined spaces for journaling. It is designed with some colored ink, making it handsome and inviting. Although most likely designed from Roman Catholics, it is our sense that anyone from any faith tradition could enjoy it.
Ordinary Blessings for the Christmas Season: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations Meta Herrick Carlson (Broadleaf Books) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
Do you know the previous two prayer books done by Meta Carlson — Ordinary Blessings and Ordinary Blessings for Parents? These are edgy and contemporary, using accessible language to unhand meaningful ritual. She likes to say that her words are “inspired by God’s delight in our real and ordinary lives.” She’s upbeat and fun, progressive theologically and adept at inviting people to seek the holy in the ordinary (and not-so-ordinary) moments of the holiday season.
There are short prayers for holiday anticipation in families, poems about church, prayers for seasonal travel, and a particular blessing for each day of Advent. There is a prayer for each of the 12 days of Christmas, too.
Filled with ancient truths and modern realities, the seasonal blessings in this book flow from Carlson’s sacred gift of noticing. Her honest wonderings and reflective words invite us to exhale, reminding us that we aren’t alone–and never have been. — Kayla Craig, author of Every Season Sacred and To Light Their Way; creator of Liturgies for Parents
CHILDREN’S & FAMILY ADVENT DEVOTIONALS
The Christmas Promise: A Three-Session Curriculum with a Family Service Outline The Good Book Company) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
Several years ago we shared — as we have every year since — the tremendous hardback children’s book The Christmas Promise, and then again the handsome, colorful board book in the same “Tales That Tell the Truth” line of excellent Bible stories. Now they’ve taken that great book (and/or board book) and developed these comprehensive, easy-to-use lesson outlines to show children how God promised a unique forever rescuing King, how God kept that promise in the birth of the son, Jesus the Christ, and the joy it is for us today to live under the living rule of King Jesus.
This detailed leader’s guide contains everything you need to run the sessions, including good Bible teaching, age-differentiated discussion guides, and even application questions. There are game suggestions, craft ideas, things for children to do at home during the week, and even generous links to downloadable resources.
These can be used as Sunday school lessons for ages 3-5s, 5-8s, and 8-12s. The Family Service outline is nice, solid, creative but not eccentric. I am inspired by it and hope you will be too. Whether you are in a small congregation or a house church or have a small group of parents with kids, there’s a whole lot to use here, and it is a truly great, inexpensive investment. Love it!
The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Activity Book: 24 Guided Crafts, Plus Games, Songs, Recipes, and More Yoli Brown (Zonderkidz) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
One of our very favorite children’s Bibles is, of course, the rightly famous Jesus Storybook Bible (where “every chapter whispers His name”) authored by Sally Lloyd-Jones and creatively illustrated by the designer Jago. A few years ago they released the The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season which we made a big deal about. It had little buttons children could push to hear songs, and some other Bible-based devotions, with the cool art from Jago. Yay.
This season sees another new product in this line inspired by Sally Lloyd Jones, a lovely and jam-packed activity book with daily stuff to do, from recipes to games, craft items and more. It includes a set of punch-out Advent ornaments, too. It is really great with lots of pictures and arranged well so will provide hours of fun and edification, even if you don’t do all the activities. Wow.
’Tis the Season Family Advent Activity Book Ink & Willow (Ink & Willow/ Waterbrook/Random House) $19.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.96
This is a great new hardback book that has a retro sort of lift-the-flap Advent calendar (with nice drawings of bunnies and gnomes and classic, homey, Christmasy scenes.) Retro as it may be, this is good stuff, with family devotions, reflection questions, prompts for various age levels, games, activities, fun facts, recipes, even a place for keeping record of family traditions — use it as a keepsake of Christmases past.
This lovely hardback opens with a delightful quote from Henri Nouwen, and invites families to prayer practices and nuanced Bible reflection, around the four themes of hope, faith, joy, and peace. It has guidance for making a wreath and the “games of anticipation” are pretty neat. If you use the recipe for Christmas Morning Caramel Rolls, let me know.
Families Celebrate Advent and Christmas 2023-2024 card deck (Augsburg Fortress) $10.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $8.79
As we search for great ideas for our customers, we were delighted last year to discover the Augsburg Fortress card deck, and they happily did them again this year. Slightly smaller than usual playing cards, this little deck has 56 cards. Each card features a ritual, prayer, reflection, or activity for families with kids ages 3 – 12. Cards are dated for use each day from the first Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2023) to the first Sunday after Epiphany, January 7, 2024. With some extras thrown in… what a blast.
God’s Big Promises Advent Calendar pack (The Good Book Company) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
This pack contains an Advent calendar and devotional booklet to help families enjoy the story of the first Christmas through each day of December.
This is drawn from the recent hardback God’s Big Promises Storybook Bible done by the great Carl Laferton (who did The Christmas Promise and other clever titles in the “Tales That Tell the Truth” series.) We are excited about this new Bible and about this lovely little Advent calendar and booklet.
Call us if you’d like us to describe other Advent calendars, from bigger and rather lavish to inexpensive. We have a pretty great selection — for now, at least…
Jesus Calling Advent and Christmas Prayers Sarah Young, illustrated by Katy Long (Tommy Nelson) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
This is a cute board book with padded cover that tells the Christmas story, with little circles throughout with one-phrase prayers of worship and praise interspersed. This may have been one of the very last projects the late Sarah Young did. Frankly, it seems to have nothing to do with the famous Jesus Calling series, and has none of the “Jesus speaking directly to you” imaginative, narrative style of those books. This just tells the story and offers prayers.
I’ll mention this again in a list of kid’s Christams books but I’ll note that it is not an Advent book and I wonder why the publisher was misleading in putting that on the cover? It does start with a prophecy of the coming of a King, noting two texts from Isaiah, and the prayers for the children thanking God for loving us and for the promise of Jesus. Then it dives to Mary and Joseph and the more typical Christmas Eve story. It’s fine, I guess, if mis-titled, but the little one phrase prayers are actually pretty useful.
The Light Before Christmas: A Family Advent Devotional Marty Machowski illustrated by Sarah Bland-Halulko (New Growth Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
We listed this last year, but it is such a popular guide for Advent family devotions that I wanted to suggest it again It’s a fairly simple four-week Advent devotional on the theme of light and darkness following the story of eleven-year old Mia and her blind grandmother —who loves Jesus and loves to share her faith as they prepare for Christmas. Maybe Mia can help your family see Light in these dark days…
All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings Gayle Boss, illustrated by Sharon Spitz (Paraclete Press) $20.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $16.79
In the last few years many customers have ordered — and re-ordered, to give away to friends and loved ones, even seekers who are not yet in the Christian world of Advent devotions — the original book by Gayle Boss, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, which wonderfully explores animal hibernation to allusively open up insights about night, waiting, new possibilities after a quiet season. The black and white illustrations in that volume are excellent, and it made sense when Paraclete last year issued a very handsome, bright red, deluxe, hardback gift edition. (And, as an aside, you should know the paperback Lenten edition, about animal extinction, called Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing, also with stunning illustrations by David Klein.)
This year, Paraclete released a stunning, full color children’s picture book edition. It has similar but considerable abbreviated text, amazing artwork, and is a generous, lavish, children’s Advent book unlike any you’ve ever seen.
In a nice word of advice in the beginning, author Gayle likens this book to an Advent calendar and encourages readers to only read one spread a day, reading and pondering, slowly. She writes,
This will not be easy. The pictures are beautiful and the animals amazing and you likely will want to rush ahead and see and read all twenty-five at once!
A bit later she explains,
You can join creatures in their Advent waiting by staying with just one animal each day. One Advent 1, sink down with Painted Turtle. On Advent 2, huddle with Muskrat. You’ll be excited to see who’s waiting for you each day. By December 25, you will have discovered that the animals companion us and speak to us.
There is more animal wonderment and facts at the end, with some very nifty ideas of things to do, so they should surely follow along with those things to learn and do. Hooray.
The World Waits Elizabeth Pham, illustrated by Jen Olson (Sophia Institute Press) $16.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56
Oh my, this is a remarkable book, very simple, a few words on each page, poetically opening up our hearts to the notion that the world may feel sad or cold but can be warmed as it remembers and waits. The artwork shows the globe, with hints of the Nativity narrative, wise men and such, too, even as some picture show modern items (cargo boats, telescopes, cityscapes) and then transitions to allusive scenes of worship, lighting candles (in a Catholic Church, presumably) and the reminder that every moment the world waits. I love the simplicity of this, even as there are glimmers of sophistication beneath the simple clarity. Many faithful BookNotes fans will know what I will say next: I love how it shows the whole world waiting, the globe, hinting at the cosmic scope of the redemptive moves of God. Yes!
There is in small print on the title page saying the story was inspired by this line from Saint Thomas Aquinas, paraphrased, they tell us, by the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins:
The Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore, masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more/ Gerard Manley Hopkins
Winter Gifts: An Indigenous Celebration of Nature Kaitlin B. Curtice, illustrated by Gloria Felix (Convergent) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
For those who want some wintery feel to their little children’s reading habits this month but don’t want to jump to Christmas quite yet, this is a nice, even provocative choice. Alert readers will recall that I highlighted it a few weeks back in a BookNotes dedicated to children’s books. Here is some of what I said, then:
This is a lovely, sweet book showing the life (and interior thoughts and fears and joys) of a modern-day American girl of Native descent. It is unclear from the story what tribe the girl, Dani, is part of, but the story describes her friends who are Anglo, black, and Asian American as they play in the snow and drink hot cocoa. The author, herself a follower of Jesus, is an important writer of indigenous insights (we carry all three of her books) and how they inform her Christian faith.
The plot is simple — she learns from her family about listening well to Grandmother Nature and caring for creation, but her friends don’t get her. She shares with her parents how she was teased and they resolve to be faithful to their indigenous wisdom, looking for gifts from creation itself. Dani takes comfort in speaking with a favorite tree. Eventually her classmates come around and want to see her tree and a fort she built and all ends well.
It was moving, actually, that there was this tension in the story when the kids didn’t understand her wisdom about Winter being a time of receiving creation’s gifts of darkness, waiting, resting. That a few Potawatomi words are used makes this a special treat.
By the way, the girl’s name in the story is Dani, and a brief note tells us that Dani (Dah-nee) is the Potawatomi word used to describe the affection toward a beloved or special daughter. Curtice tells us that “Dani represents not just the special love we share with our human families but also our special status as the beloved children of Creator and of Earth, who was made by Creator to be our mother.”
Gloria Felix, the illustrator and animation artist, is Purepecha, born and raised in Uruapan, in Michoacán Mexico.
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Sadly, as of November 2023 we are still closed for in-store browsing. COVID is not fully over. Since few are reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the waste water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. It is bad and now getting worse. It’s important to be aware of how risks we take might effect the public good — those at risk, while not dying from the virus, are experiencing long-term health consequences. (Just check the latest reports of the rise of heart attacks and diabetes among younger adults, caused by Covid.) It is complicated, but we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family who live here, our staff, and customers.) Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation, so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.
We will keep you posted about our future plans… we are eager to reopen.
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