By Kathryn McDonald
With Christmas just around the corner, it can be easy to get swept up in all the holiday celebrations without pausing for personal reflection on the deeper meaning of the season. Within the traditional Church calendar, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas provide believers and their families opportunities to slow down and celebrate the Christmas story. Some families may choose to use an advent wreath or countdown to provide a visual reminder of the weeks and days that lead up to Christmas.
As a child, my family and I celebrated advent using the traditional wreath with three purple candles, a pink candle, and a large white candle in the center. On each of the four Sundays, a candle was lit and the Christmas story was read and explained.
Week one is typically centered around the theme of hope. Old Testament prophecies are read and the idea of longing for a Savior is considered as we reflect on Christ’s coming at Christmas and the promise of another, future coming.
Love is the theme of week two. If God is love, how is His character demonstrated in the Christmas story?
Week three brings with itself an increased eagerness as Christmas draws ever nearer. The pink candle is lit and the theme is joy. A feeling of celebration is in the air as thanksgiving leads to praise.
Week four’s reflection is on peace. As the angels announce Christ’s birth to the shepherds they proclaim the coming of a Messiah whose presence brought peace to earth. We taste a small bit of that peace now, but there is so much more to come!
Christmas morning comes and as we read the Christmas story together as a family, the white center candle is lit. Representing Christ and His life on earth, this candle allows us to reflect on the person that Christmas celebrates – Christ.
Now that I am grown, I find myself appreciating the season of Advent as an opportunity to return to the Christmas story and consider its meaning again. Over the years, I have found a handful of favorite advent devotional books that I have shared with my family and friends. If you are looking for an introduction to this season of reflective awe, I encourage you to try one of the recommended books. It is endlessly enriching to intentionally slow down in the midst of a busy season and give thought to the why of Christmas.
Book 1: “Love Came Down at Christmas”
About this book: Instead of reading through the Christmas story or focusing on the four themes of advent (hope, love, joy, peace), this devotional focuses on God’s love in the Christmas story. The famous “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians is used as the text that the author, Sinclair Ferguson, works through. This devotional could work for a group, but the individual days are helpful to read alone and discuss later.
Pros: Every devotional is followed by some questions for reflection and a written prayer. These might be helpful for group discussions or personal contemplation.
Cons: This book starts on December 1 instead of on the first Sunday of Advent, but that could be a great thing if you would prefer to commit to something for the month of December only.
Book 2: “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy”
About this book: This book explores the meaning of Advent and the spirit of the Christmas season. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection are critical elements of a Christian’s joy. Without these, there is very little worth celebrating. John Piper captures the spirit of that joy while propelling readers to join him in adoration of Christ.
Pros: This book is available in an audiobook format which may be perfect for commuters or busy individuals who still would like to celebrate Advent.
Cons: This book includes a reading for Christmas day. If you normally read the Christmas story, this might seem like something “extra” to do, but I think this is a very minor element.
Book 3: “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas”
About this book: Beginning with the prophecies of the Old Testament, Ann Voskamp tells the Christmas story with illustrative language and engaging dialogue. The creation of the world, the fall of man, God’s covenants with His people and the story of the first Christmas are each used to lead children and families through the Advent season.
Pros: The illustrations and storytelling are engaging for little ones. The book has child-friendly language that is easily accessible to a range of ages.
A Christmas countdown is included in the form of a “Jesse tree”. Ornaments may be purchased online that correspond with each of the days of the devotional.
Cons: The family activities each day may require some planning which could be difficult during the business of the Christmas season. However, I love how it offers ideas for activities that tie in with each lesson.
Book 4: “Repeat the Sounding Joy”
About this book: This book uses Luke 1-2 as the primary passage that is worked through leading up to Christmas. Each day begins with a Scripture reading followed by a short devotional, a song to sing, a written prayer and a space for journaling.
Pros: Space for journaling is provided with each devotional. The unique addition of a song to accompany each devotion was so enjoyable. Even if you aren’t comfortable with singing each day, reading through the lyrics and meditating on the truths there can be so helpful.
Cons: The binding of the book makes it difficult to use the space provided for journaling.
My favorite book for individuals: “Love Came Down at Christmas”
My favorite book for families or groups: “Repeat the Sounding Joy”
My favorite book for families with younger children: “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift”
My favorite book for individuals who are new to advent: “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy”
“Love Came Down at Christmas,” “Repeat the Sounding Joy,” “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” and “The Dawning of the Indestructible Joy” are all available for purchase at Christianbook.com
Kathryn McDonald is a senior Psychology major and writer for the Arts and Entertainment section of Cedars. You can probably catch her writing a letter to a friend in the library or drinking coffee from her favorite mug. When she is not at her desk studying, she is probably on her phone catching up with friends or reading her favorite volumes of American poetry.
Header image courtesy of istockphoto.