The Advent season has started. It is the new year of the church calendar, where we anticipate not just the arrival of the Christ Child at Christmas, but the unknown day and time when Christ will return. Diane M. Houdek, one of the authors featured here, writes, “Advent challenges us to step away form the hectic activity of the world, even if only for a short time each day.”
Advent beckons us to slow down during what is likely the busiest time of the year. Advent calls us to seek a deeper relationship with the One born in the mundane of life. Each of the five books listed below are useful tools to a reader or a small group this Advent to slow down and assure that everything – all of us – are rooted deeply in the Christ Child.
A pastor, educator, and denominational leader in the Assemblies of God denomination, Burkhart examines five questions that key players in the birth narratives of Jesus ask. The birth narrative – the Christmas story – is well-known. But what Burkhart does looking more closely at questions being asked by the Magi, Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, and the crowd witnessing the naming of John the Baptist, is he invites the reader to explore their own questions.
Burkhart’s writing is warm and welcoming. He unwraps the questions by offering a sprinkling of his own Christmas memories. In this way, Burkhart provides examples as to how the questions he is exploring may relate or connect to our own lives. It is a different way to consider the birth narratives, and could make for an interesting sermon series or Bible study.
Sent is an Advent Bible study for use in the local church. Acevedo, a United Methodist pastor from Florida, leads a 5-week study with assistance from four young United Methodist clergy. In addition to the book, which can be used for a personal Bible study, there is a leader’s guide and a DVD.
The guiding principle for this book comes from John 17:18: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them …” Each clergy person shares stories and reflections from their own experiences as they help the reader discover how, where, and why we are sent to be the hands and feet of Christ this Christmas, and all year long.
C. S. Lewis, the famed professor, thinker, and author, said of his children’s novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, “At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.” Writer Heidi Haverkamp invites readers to use Lewis’ unintentional Christian story to reflect on the Christian story in a new way. as Haverkamp writes, “Lewis, by placing Christianity into another world, makes it unfamiliar again.” And the unfamiliar is where we encounter God, perhaps for the first time again.
The book is sectioned off into weeks of Advent and for each week there is a set of readings. Most of the reflections are only a page or two. Haverkamp invites the readers of her book to read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe along with her book. Each short reflection includes a set of questions (two-three) for personal or small group study. The book includes a leader’s guide for a discussion group, as well as a guide for creating a Narnia night in your church.
The poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite collects a number of poems for Advent. The poems included are not all by Christian poets. Guite included poets in this anthology “who seem . . . to see in the heavens such signs as declare the glory of the Lord.” Guite acknowledges that this is not a work of theology. However, because the poetry it contained inside appeals to the imagination, it does contribute to the theology that we all participate in each day. Poetry, after all, can help us manage the mystery of Advent’s paradoxes: dark and light, emptiness and fulfillment, ancient and ever new.
Poems included come from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions. Poets include Edmund Spenser, John Donne, George Herbert, Christina Rossetti, Luci Shaw, and Scott Cairns. Not mention some of Guite’s own writings. Each poem is followed by a bit of short reflections. The poems themselves are enough to spark reflection for the Christian reader as a spiritual discipline this Advent.
Pope Francis is one of those rare people of faith who is able to articulate faith in both words and deeds. The book is formatted for daily readings for each day of Advent and into the Christmas season. Houdek collects lectionary citations (that follow the readings at daily Mass), reflections from Pope Francis, and prayers from Pope Francis. The reflections are from various teachings and homilies form the Pope. If you have ever read any of Pope Francis, you know that his words are often filled with hope. A timely message for where the world is this Advent season.
The significant element to this devotional is the “Bringing the Word to Life” section of each daily reading. This section asks the reader to consider what they have or can do. It is not just about reflecting on scripture and praying. There is, appropriate for something connected with Pope Francis, an emphasis on taking action. For example, this section from the second reading starts off, “How can you support pregnant women in a way that calms their fear and encourages the joyfulness of their waiting?”
This is a beautiful little book that provides a new way to reflect on the Advent season.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a digital review copy.