My first married December was rough. We had moved from SoCal to Northern Idaho a couple months earlier and I wasn’t going to see my family on Christmas. I was grumpy most of the month, unable to appreciate new traditions and the Currier and Ives weather in our new state.
Decorating the Christmas tree was a special event when I was growing up. My step-dad got it in the stand and as perpendicular as possible. My mom and brother did the lights – always colored and the more the merrier. Then we set to unwrapping ornaments, laughing at the ones made in grade school, making sure the one-eyed mangy bird got a prime spot.
As Tim and I set up our forest-felled tree that first year together, I felt bereft and lamely incapable of putting lights on branches properly. He wisely stayed on the couch as I huffily wound lights onto branches but ended up at Lowe’s three times in the span of an hour because WE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH LIGHTS (I was yelling this to myself while huffing). And the next day, the ding dang tree fell right over.
I know I’m not the only one with Christmas stories like that one, or worse. Disasters are just lurking in the shadows of high expectations, an influx of social engagements, and the pressure to spend money. Christmastime is often the breeding ground for tension and hurt instead of comfort and joy.
Practicing Advent is something that has helped me create space for my soul to breathe (to borrow a phrase from Emily Freeman) during the holidays.
I didn’t grow up in a denomination that followed the liturgical church calendar, so I mostly associated Advent with consuming a small, waxy chocolate each day in December until Christmas. But in the past few years, I’ve enjoyed the rhythm of an Advent devotional to focus my mind and prepare my heart for the season of celebrating our Savior’s birth.
Here are five of my favorite Advent reads.
Ann’s lyrical writing voice seems particularly fitting for wonder surrounding Christ’s birth. In The Greatest Gift, Ann uses the advent tradition of the Jesse Tree (a tradition I knew nothing about before reading this book) to frame daily readings that follow the lineage of Jesus starting with Jesse, the father of David. Similar to The Jesus Storybook Bible where “every story whispers His name,” The Greatest Gift continually points to the coming promise of Christ throughout the Old Testament. It’s rich and beautiful and I usually re-read this every year.
This is a stunning coffee-table-worthy reimagining of The Greatest Gift geared toward families. The gorgeous illustrations give life to The Jesse Tree tradition and will captivate children of any age. Each day has a scripture reading, kid-friendly devotional and suggested activities to do as a family. When we do a book advent (I wrap 24 books and the get to open one every day leading up to Christmas), I have the kids open this one first.
Asheritah sent me a copy of her re-released Advent devotional and I’ve already read through most of it (I love Christmas and couldn’t contain myself). I can’t wait to go back through at a slower pace. There are so many things I love about this slim book. It’s beautiful to look at inside and out. Asheritah convincingly explains the history and relevance of celebrating Advent in her introduction. Each devotional focuses on a different name of Jesus and are grouped to follow the four weeks of Advent (Hope, Preparation, Joy and Love). Every week starts with an interactive devotional for the whole family. Unwrapping the Names of Jesus is a perfect place to start if you’re new to Advent!
I am just such a huge fan of the mission behind She Reads Truth – to have women in the Word of God every day. Their website, app and study books are beautifully designed and engaging. Since Lent 2017, I’ve done five studies with them. The Advent study book 152 pages of gorgeous goodness including the full scripture readings, wintry recipes, theological extras, and perforated scripture memorization cards. They also have resources for men and kids, too! If you just want the scripture readings and commentary, they are available one day at a time on the website (free) or the app (2.99).
Here’s a bonus pick that is Advent related but doesn’t have daily readings like the previous selections. Liz Curtis Higgs is skilled at bringing emotional depth to stories in the Bible. (I thoroughly enjoyed her retelling of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah’s story set in the Lowlands of Scotland.) In The Women of Christmas, Higgs explores the lives of three women who carry the story of Christmas – Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. She provides commentary, verse by verse, as these women prepare for the birth of the Messiah. I loved the fresh perspective on how these women’s individual stories intertwined with the Christmas story.
What books do you read during Advent?