Mission & Ministry - Advent Reading Suggestions

The Bishop's Institute Advent Reading Suggestions

November 2015

Making Advent Special: A List of Advent Books 2015

A list of 'daily readers' for Advent recommended by the Rector of the Bishop's Institute

The new Christian year begins the 29th of November on Advent Sunday. Advent (this year from 29 November until Christmas eve 24 December) is not only a season in which Christians prepare themselves in heart and mind for the great good news of Christmas but it also launches us into a whole new Christian Year or Calendar. Someone has rightly said that the Christian liturgical Calendar or Year is the best catechetical device ever invented.

Advent is my favorite season. For starters I love the hymns associated with Advent. Even more than Christmas carols I eagerly await the great hymns of Advent: 'O come, O come, Emmanuel', 'Come, thou long expected Jesus','On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry,'Sleepers, wake!' and best of all the Charles Wesley hymn 'Lo! He comes, with clouds descending'. I love the whole expectant and prophetic tenor of the Scripture readings and themes, e.g.'the four last things' (heaven, hell, death and judgement) and of the coming of Christ.

My appreciation of Advent began in a bygone day, at the start of my ministry, when the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for each Sunday never varied from year to year, and all could be found bound within the Prayer Book (without over-sizing it). The old collects were so beautifully rhythmic one could easily memorize them and I particularly loved and anticipated the ones for Advent.

There was in particular the beautiful collect in 'The Sunday Next Before Advent' that set the whole energetic tone of the season ahead with the opening words 'STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord the wills of thy faithful people' (and a reminder to stir those Christmas fruitcakes in time to let them soak in bourbon top-ups in sealed metal tins until Christmas). And that memorable collect for the Second Sunday in Advent that reminded us annually of the word of God in Holy Scripture as containing all things necessary for salvation: 'Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them…'.  

But best of all the collect for the First Sunday of Advent to be said all season long, 'Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light…' echoing so fitfully the exhortation of St Paul in the epistle (Romans 13.8ff) for that first Sunday in Advent: 'And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light'. That collect and epistle working together like hand in glove never fails in stirring my heart and imagination to yearn for a new year and a new beginning. Advent just rings so loudly the urgent and joyful plea of the early Christians, 'The Spirit and the Bride say come, even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!' But I woefully digress.

The purpose of this article is to offer a list of some daily devotional books for Advent. The list is not even the tiniest fraction of a tip of an ice-berg. There are so many Advent 'daily readers' out there and newly arriving every year that one could shout 'But stop, already!'. All the same I like to think the sheer volume of them attests to the great number of fellow Christians who share a deep enthusiasm for the season.


God in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Westminster John Knox Press- $11.31

ISBN-10: 0664234291

This is one of my favorite daily readers and I have returned to it many times both in Advent and other times of the year. That some of the daily entries are taken from Bonhoeffer's writings in prison during Advent and Christmas gives them an added weight or reality in reflection on the Advent theme of hope and God's gift in Christ.

[Related in substance to the Bonhoeffer Advent readings---I am reading this Advent Alfred Delp's Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings 1941-1944. (Ignatius Press- $12.65, ISBN-10: 1586170813). Accused of conspiring against the Nazi government, this Jesuit priest was executed on Feb 2, 1945. He writes with authority and power: More, and on a deeper level than before, we really know this time that all of life is Advent-Letter from prison, December 5, 1944.]

Walking Backwards to Christmas

 Stephen Cottrell

Westminster John Knox Press-$12.50

ISBN-10: 0664261868

Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford and a Christian writer with a common touch. In this reader he attempts to overcome two 'turn-offs' for Christians: the numerous Old Testament references and readings in Advent in the run-up to Christmas and the fact that Christians simply switch off listening after December 26th and miss the important Gospel messages that follow on from the nativity Gospel stories. So he tells the Gospel story 'back to front' from Jesus's Presentation in the Temple to the prophetic hopes voiced in Isaiah.

Do Nothing Christmas is Coming: An Advent Calendar with a Difference

Stephen Cottrell

Kindle edition (Amazon)- $6.94

In 2007 Cottrell wrote a book that got a lot of press attention in the UK: Do Nothing to Change Your Life as an antidote to the sheer stress and busy-ness we all bring to every task and every effort at self-improvement. Do Nothing Christmas follows in the same vein and is helpful in reminding us to 'keep it simple' in our church and family activities and thoughts in the run-up to Christmas. I got plenty of good leads for sermons from this little book.

Comings and Goings

Gordon Giles

BRF Publishing-$12.99

ISBN-10: 0857463764

Gordon Giles is one of my favorite Christian writers. He has a superb gift for the 'daily reader' format. Here, like Cottrell, he attempts to tell the story back-to-front starting with the 'end' of the story, e.g. 'the four last things' (heaven and hell, death and judgement) and journeys to the beginning 'In the beginning was the Word'. Ironic that such a large appeal of Advent and Christmas is found in a return to the familiar and the cherished yet a yearning to see it fresh and to say it anew.

O Come Emmanuel: A Musical Tour of Daily Readings for Advent and Christmas

Gordon Giles

Paraclete Press- $16.99

ISBN-10: 1557255156

This delivers exactly what it says on the tin. You will emerge all the happier and all the more enlightened with a deeper knowledge of the music of Christmas and Epiphany. This daily reader offers material one could easily adapt in sharing the season with the whole family day by day throughout Advent until Epiphany.

Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany

Malcolm Guite

Canterbury Press Norwich- $15.99

ISBN-10: 1848258003

Malcolm Guite, Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, is a poet, priest and songwriter. In this daily reader he provides a wealth of well-chosen poetry from George Herbert, Donne and Christina Rossetti to contemporary poets. 

Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season

Heidi Haverkamp

Westminster John Knox Press- $12.02

ISBN-10: 0664261264

Unlike all the other books in this list, Advent in Narnia is actually a course a parish group can use for Advent gatherings. There is plenty of Biblical material and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is drawn on with all of its cherished childhood associations but interpreted for adult reflection in Advent. The approach is not dissimilar to the one taken by Earl Palmer in his September lectures at 'A Weekend with CS Lewis' at Camp Weed and the Cerveny Conference Center. And there is something here for families too, e.g. ideas for 'A Narnia Night for Families'.

Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Michael Leach (Editor), James Keane (Editor), Doris Goodnough (Editor)

Orbis Books- $12.75

ISBN-10: 162698123X

This contains wonderful, insightful selections from classic and contemporary spiritual writers from across the Christian spectrum. It is a worthy companion to Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter also published by Orbis.

Soul Proclamations: Singing the Magnificat with Mary

Kate Moorehead (author, with Ray Suarez, Tom Briedenthal and other authors well-known to the Episcopal Church)

Forward Movement, also available at the St. John's Cathedral Bookstore- $5.00

ISBN 978-0-88028-415-8

An excellent focus for Advent preparation, watching and waiting-with Mary, the Lord's mother. Our own Dean Kate's contribution is in the book's section 3 Advent- 'Proclaiming Good News'.

Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent

Richard Rohr, OFM

Franciscan Media- $8.99

ISBN-10: 1616364785

You can never go wrong with Richard Rohr. Each daily meditation closes with a good question for further reflection.

 Advent with Evelyn Underhill

Evelyn Underhill (author) and Christopher Webber (editor)

Morehouse Publishing- from $7.99

ISBN-10: 0819222216

I have loved this daily reader for many years. Webber has adopted a simple format: he offers each day a selection from Underhill's writings followed by a single thought for meditation and followed by a single thought for prayer. I feel an Evelyn Underhill revival stirring.

The Gift of New Hope: An Advent Study Based on the Revised Common Lectionary (Scriptures for the Church Seasons)

Christopher L. Webber

Abingdon Press-$9.74

ISBN-10: 1501801376

I have only just ordered this and I hope it delivers what the title purports it to offer.

All of these books are available from Amazon. Soul Proclamations is available for $5 at the St. John's Cathedral Bookstore.