With the season of Advent upon us, we at The Well thought our readers might enjoy a little holiday boost. While we delight in the opportunity to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, we often notice that we could use some extra help finding and choosing resources to help us along the journey. After asking several of our contributors for their favorite recommendations, we are ready to offer an abundant list of books, media, and practices that might inspire you and your family this Advent.
A tip for usage: Is the length of this list overwhelming to you? We hope not, but if it is, take a moment to ask God to highlight just one or two things you might like to investigate further or add in to your Advent observance this year. There is no rush and no need to explore everything. His good Spirit will lead you.
Blessings to you this Advent season!
The contributors and staff at The Well
You can find a full list of our contributors at the end of the article. Their initials next to the various resources indicate each contributor's recommendations.
Books for Adults
- The Risk of Birth: A gift book of Christ-poems, edited by Luci Shaw. This little anthology is out of print, but worth tracking down. Some of this same material can be found in WinterSong: Christmas Readings by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw. They have some very good poems in that volume, but you miss out on the other writers. (CB)
- Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas, and the Kingdom by Walter Wangerin, Jr. Original meditations on the Christmas story that are well worth reading. (CB)
- Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross. I look, every year, for a collection of the readings in Scripture for this season and so I have collected several good ones over the years. Bobby Gross does a very good job in his book. (CB)
- The Gospel of Christmas by Patty Kirk. Really lovely. Also makes a great gift. (MB)
- Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen: Daily Scripture and Prayers Together with Nouwen's Own Words by Henri J.M. Nouwen. My first exposure to Nouwen's writing came through other writers quoting him. After a few encounters with his thoughts in these excerpts, I decided to read his books. This little collection is a wonderful introduction to Nouwen's compassionate, wise authenticity as well as a meaningful way to step into a more mindful approach to all that advent signifies for us. (AP)
- Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (Advent and Christmas) by Michelle Allen Bychek (Author), Rachel Telander (Author), Jessica Snell (Author, Editor). This is an excellent resource for adults and families with children, offering ideas of how to bring liturgical practices of faith into the home. (AMG, AB)
- Waiting on the Word by Malcolm Guite. Poems selected and written by the motorcycle-riding, bass-guitar-playing chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge will open your mind to new dimensions of the beauty and mystery of Advent. (JB)
- Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by Sarah Arthur. Her writing in the introduction itself is lovely before you even engage with this collection of traditional and contemporary pieces, which includes works by the likes of Scott Cairns and Jeanne Murray Walker. (HWP)
- Christian History’s Holidays Section. When I want to understand the history and thought behind Advent and Christmas, I find the articles here trustworthy and accessible. (HWP)
- Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle. If you find the Book of Common Prayer hard to navigate but want to enter into the daily offices during Advent and afterwards, this book is for you. (HWP)
- Proclaiming the Christmas Gospel: Ancient Sermons and Hymns for Contemporary Christian Inspiration edited by John D. Witvliet and David Vroege. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but you can find it used. The Christmas sermon by Jerome (340-420) floored me with its insight. (HWP)
Websites and other resources
- The Advent Project at Biola University. Since Advent is often a season of busyness and traveling, I always subscribe to some daily email devotionals that I can read anywhere. I love The Advent Project out of Biola University's Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts — a free series of thoughtful, eloquent, and personal reflections accompanied by visual art and music. It’s beautiful. (AK, CB, HWP)
- I buy a taper candle that has all the days numbered and I burn it down, day by day. (CB)
- This year I bought an Advent coloring book calendar — this is a new thing for me, but I thought I’d try it! (CB)
- In general, I lean heavily into poetry readings on the incarnation and on the classic Scripture passages but I am always looking for new stuff. I also lean heavily into music — Celtic, traditional, choral, instrumental — to help me pray, worship, and reflect. (CB)
- Advent devotionals by World Renew and the CRC Office of Social Justice. These feature stories from people around the world who are learning how to holistically live out God's call to do justice and love mercy. (AK)
- This year, I’m looking forward to exploring Jan Johnson’s online Advent retreat Bringing Advent to Life. (AB)
For children and families
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. (CB)
- The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas by Jeff Smith. A cookbook with recipes for each person or animal in his large nativity set with other traditional recipes and stories and poems for the season. I loved using this with my boys when they were young. (CB)
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Film is fun but book read aloud is great. (CB) This one might go without saying, but for the few people who haven’t read it, this one is a classic. (KHG)
- The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle. A great way to explain what Advent is. (CB)
- A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. This is our family’s very favorite read-aloud Christmas book. We especially like this edition, illustrated by Trina Schart Hymen. We end up quoting from it all year long. (AB)
- The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski. This is another family favorite. Jon reads it out loud and he cries every year. We’re fond of the illustrations in this version but there are others as well. (AB)
- I Spy Christmas: A Book of Picture Riddles. Another family favorite — great for young kids. (KHG)
- The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones. I love doing the Jesus Storybook Bible devotions as Advent preparation with my kids. Adriel Booker writes about how to follow the book as you would a Dec 1-25 advent book. (AH)
- I also really love the cards from All Good Things Collective that you can display during Advent. (AH)
- Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. A friend of ours shared this charming book with letters from Father Christmas by Tolkien to his children. We’re looking forward to making it part of our annual tradition. (HWP)
- Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots. This is an album for the family. The group Rain for Roots features Sandra McCracken as one of the vocalists, and the album puts you in a spirit of waiting for Jesus’ coming with traditional songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and new ones such as “Mary Consoles Eve.” (HWP)
- The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean. We read as a family from this book re-telling the stories of the Jesse Tree. The writing is gracious and warm. (HWP)
- Carmen Imes has developed a series of Advent devotions for families that work through the grand narrative of Scripture in preparation for Christmas. It can be adapted for kids of various ages. “The idea is not entirely original, though I made substantial changes and wrote original devotionals. I adapted the symbols and passages from Jesse Tree Devotions: A Family Activity for Advent by Marilyn Breckenridge.” You can find Carmen’s devotions available for free on her blog. (CI)
You can find a wealth of advent-themed articles in our archives, but here are three of our favorites to start with.
- Dear Mentor: Is there time for Advent? How can I find time for Advent preparations with all of the pressures of school?
- Entangled Calendars. Heather Walker Peterson explores the tension of living amidst both the secular and the sacred at this time of year.
- Blessed Is She. Anna Moseley Gissing reflects on the promise of fulfillment that is true for us all through the coming of Christ.
Anna Moseley Gissing
Karen Hice Guzmán
Heather Walker Peterson