Ready or not the seasons are shifting.
Of course, we know in our heads that all time moves at the same speed, but our hearts simply will go on beating to some other, more mysterious, rhythm.
Sometimes the gap between those two experiences of time feels like a chasm. We stand on the edge, our hearts out of sync with the calendar, and we fear we will tumble, head over heels, into emptiness. But there are other days. Like Advent days. Then the gap between head-time and heart-time becomes a sacred place and a welcome retreat.
In the last November chapter of Roots and Sky, I wrote this:
I believe in sacred time. We may live in a world of Sunday-morning soccer games, Sunday-afternoon birthday parties, and twenty-four-hour shopping, but I believe there are days when eternity floods our time-bound existence. Days like a cup that runneth over. I also know that without some effort on my part, all time tends to look exactly the same, whether or not it is the same. Advent is beginning, and I want to set aside the days. To mark them off and probe their depths.
The primary way I do that, alone and together with my husband and children, is through books. If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know that my archives are full of book recommendations for Advent and Christmas. I recently updated the page ( These Farmhouse Bookshelves) where you can explore all those links.
However, with Advent beginning on Sunday, and the first of December only days away, I thought a little roundup was in order. Here are several new-to-me titles and a shelf-full of old favorites.
And, for those of you who can’t think of Advent until after you’ve eaten your Thanksgiving turkey, here is my latest post at Grace Table. It’s a reflection on grief and gratitude and includes a recipe for the prettiest dish I placed on my holiday table last year. Enjoy!
My friend Kris Camealy has just published a beautiful new Advent devotional, Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting. I read an advance copy months ago, but I am looking forward to reading it again, more slowly and prayerfully, through the month of December.
I have forgotten now who recommended to me Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by Sarah Arthur. I’ve only skimmed the pages, but these words from the book jacket have me eager to dive in: “Readers are invited to experience Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany in its raw strangeness, stripped of sentiment ….” Those words remind me of Madeleine L’Engle’s description of Advent as The Irrational Season (another favorite book for this season).
Two devotionals I have always appreciated in the past are God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas from Paraclete Press and Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, a collection that includes selections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis, and many others
During Advent, we aim to light the candles in our Advent wreath and read a special devotional each evening together. I say aim because, of course, there are nights when I call the whole thing off because all four of the kids insist on fighting over the candle snuffer. I have also learned (the hard way) not to expect my children to sit still for nightly readings without also giving them freshly-sharpened colored pencils and a Christmas coloring book like the Christmas Around the World Coloring Book by Dover.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp has been a great companion to our Jesse Tree, but it would make an ideal daily devotional for a family even if you do not decorate a Jesse Tree. This is a substantial book with gorgeous illustrations. The language is rich and poetic enough to capture the attention of my older kids, but the readings are brief and linked to familiar Bible stories, so it works for younger children, too. If you only have very young children, I recommend using The Jesus Storybook Bible for your Advent devotions. There are exactly twenty-four stories from the beginning through to the wise men visiting the infant Jesus, making it perfect for introducing small children to the bigger story of Jesus’s birth during the month of December.
For years, I gave my children a new Advent or Christmas-themed picture book each Sunday of Advent. We now have an impressive collection, though I picked up most of the books during the year for twenty-five cents at a local thrift store. This does mean that our collection is less, well, curated than I might like. But a picture book we all love this time of year is Astrid Lindgren’s Christmas in Noisy Village. This is a delightfully simple description of Christmas celebrations on three Swedish farms packed with young children.
Last year, we read a strange little novel called The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. You may know Sophie’s World, also written by this former professor of philosophy from Norway. Some of the strangeness may come from Gaarder’s philosophical bent, and some of it may simply be the little things that can be lost in translation, but the result is a curious, compelling Advent mystery that my kids and I both loved. The story follows the opening of a magical Advent calendar, and so it is already divided into chapters readymade for daily Advent reading. The central mystery involves a journey back through history to the very day and place of the Christ Child’s birth. It reads like following a thread back to that particular momentous day, and the result is that I felt much more solidly connected to the very first Christmas as an actual historical event.
This year, our readaloud chapter book is Winterfrost by Michelle Houts. We are one chapter in, and the kids are already hooked by this tale of Christmas magic on an isolated Danish farm.
Though our seasonal books have spilled over from shelves to piles on the windowsills, I have added one more new book to our Advent collection this year. It is Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season by Heidi Haverkamp. Designed for small group discussion, I think this one will also work well for families, especially if you plan to read it alongside The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
I’d love to hear about your own favorite Advent and Christmas books in the comments.
My pastor, a well know leader in the Still Speaking Movement in the United Church of Christ, wrote an advent devotional available in ebook and Paperback. Still Speaking devotions are also available online by going to UCC.ORG
All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas Kindle and paperback
by the Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell
Thank you, Andrea! I will definitely check this out. Grateful for the recommendation.
Thanks! I love resources for Advent! I am using Sarah Arthur’s Ordinary Time devotional and enjoying it. I will have to try Light Upon Light next year. I ordered Watch for the Light from our library to dip into this year. And thanks for the read aloud title! I added it to our list! 🙂
Blessed Advent (and happy reading!) to you, Danielle. P.S. I’ve been meaning to tell you thank you for – long ago – telling me about the Readaloud Revival podcast and website. I bought a few new picture books and reserved a whole stack at the library based on her recommendations. Thanks for that!
Thank you Christie – you’ve listed a few new to me titles here.
And some you might enjoy if you haven’t already come across them
“To Everything There is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story” by Alistair Macleod – just lovely.
“Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany” by Malcolm Guite – an exploration of the poetry of longing, hope, rejoicing, and pain too, in this season.
“B is for Bethlehem” by Isabel Wilner – for children – a wondrous telling of the Christmas story with gorgeous artwork. The language used is so rich – a few examples:
“J is for Jesus, Immanuel holy
Cradled in straw in a stable so lowly.
R is for Radiance, God’s glorious light.
It brightens the stable. It lightens the night.
W’s for Worship. O come and adore.
In starlight, in candlelight, glad carols soar.”
I think it is now out of print but you may find it in a library.
Thank you so much, Judy! These titles are all new to me (though I have another book by Malcolm Guite that I love), and I can’t wait to check them out. Thank you for taking the time to share them with me.
I love Watch for the Light – the first Advent book I ever read and still my favorite. And I loved The Christmas Mystery, too. I also reread Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher around this time of year.
I think I first read Winter Solstice after you recommended it. Now I reread it every December, too!
Christie, I really appreciate these recommendations. Thank you!! I’ve only read one of your suggestions: Come, Lord Jesus, which I loved. So you have given me much Advent-urous soulfood–a near-Christmas feast! Might I recommend two books to you, in return? One is Christian, the other secular (yet utterly exquisite). Well, while I’m at it: I’ll give you three for the price of one! 🙂 They are: Winter Song: Christmas Readings by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw; A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote; A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. And every year, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Its Christian themes are unmistakable. I hope you enjoy them. Merry Christmas!
Thank you, Lynn. Winter Song sounds like a wonderful collection. I already turn to Madeleine and Luci for some of my favorite Advent words. And I love Capote’s A Christmas Memory! So good. I’ve also been meaning to read the Thomas for years now. Thank you for the nudge to put it on hold at my library. Merry Christmas, my friend.
Christie dear, just seeing this. You will LOVE Dylan Thomas’s boyhood prose poem. It is utterly exquisite. And yes, I think of you love the Luci/Madeleine views on winter and Christmas. all the best to you for a joyous Advent, dear one.
This is a great list! I am quite an Advent-devotee as well. This year I am reading “Watch for the Light” again but other years have enjoyed, “Finding the Messiah” by Jane Rubietta http://amzn.to/2g2pnOq and “Preparing for Jesus” by Walter Wangerin Jr. http://amzn.to/2ggeMCL I always reread Madeline L’Engle’s “Twenty -Four days before Christmas.” http://amzn.to/2ggf7W3. Advent Blessings!