For the first thousand years of Christianity, the idea of Advent, or “coming,” was associated with the promised second coming of Christ. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the focus of Advent became the Christmas season, and the celebration of the birth of the Christ child.
Traditionally, Advent has been recognized and celebrated by the more liturgical churches – Catholic, Episcopal, and others. But in recent years, a wide variety of Christian traditions have begun to include Advent celebrations in worship. My own Presbyterian church has the practice of the lighting of the Advent candles each Sunday in December.
Advent is a time of waiting, a time of expectation and preparation. It begins in early December and extends through Epiphany, or the visit of the Magi. Four recent books offer different ways of celebrating the Advent season.
Time to Get Ready: An Advent Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soul by Mark Villano covers six weeks, from the beginning of Advent (this year on Dec. 3) through Epiphany in January. Villano divides his reader into six sections, by weeks: Advent Waiting, Advent Acting, John’s Call, Mary’s Call, Christmas Week, and Epiphanies.
Each day of each week, Villano includes Scripture readings, anecdotes and stories, and sayings and writings by famous figures from across church history to reflect, meditate, and deeply consider the meaning of the birth and ministry of Christ. The sources quoted range from Teresa of Avila to T.S. Eliot and G.K. Chesterton.
Villano received a M.Div. degree from Catholic University of America, and an MFA degree in cinematic arts from the University of Southern California. He’s currently director of Mission and Ministry at Marymount California University. Time to Get Ready is a simple yet full way to observe the Advent season.
Martin Shannon, an Episcopal priest serving at the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, uses Psalms as the basis for his exploration of the Advent season in My Soul Waits: Praying with the Psalms through Advent, Christmas & Epiphany. Each daily reading includes a reference to a specific Psalm, a reflection on the psalm’s meaning, and then a saying or writing by one of the church fathers.
The church fathers quoted include Augustine, Origen, Jerome, Ambrose, Bede, John Chrysostom, and several others (there’s a helpful biographical section in the appendix). Father Martin holds a Ph.D. degree from Catholic University of America and is the author of All God’s Angels: Loving and Learning from Angelic Messengers and According to Your Mercy: Praying with the Psalms from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
My Soul Waits is a good way to explore the Psalms in the context of Advent and learn some church history in the process.
Anselm Grun is a German Benedictine monk and the cellarer of Munsterschwarzach Abbey. He is also the author of more than 300 books about spirituality, theology, and psychology. And he has a book for the Advent season: Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent. (Originally published in German, it’s been translated by Mark Burrows.)
As the subtitle implies, Grun’s book covers the four weeks of December leading up to the birth of Jesus. Each of the four sections has an introduction for the week and then a daily reading. Each reading has a theme, like light, waiting, yearning, thinking anew, moving mountains, joy, angels, swords to plowshares, and others. And each theme and reading is connected to a specific suggestion for a practice – lighting a candle, taking a walk, deep reflection, and others. There’s even a practice you can do while taking a shower!
Your Light Gives Us Hope combines readings, reflections, and simple activities to help celebrate the Advent season.
All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, by Gayle Boss and illustrated by David Klein, takes a decidedly different approach to Advent – turning to the natural world and linking observations about animals to the Advent season.
The book includes 25 reflections about different animals (and a few insects) combined with black and white drawings of each. The theme of waiting infuses each reflection, the creatures waiting for the birth of the Messiah. These are not stories about the animals – voles, birds, bears, squirrels, and more – but observations of how they live in their varied environments.
Based in western Michigan, Boss is a freelance writer specializing in writing about the natural world and the human community. Klein has illustrated graphic novels, advertisements, comic books, films, journals, and many other media.
All Creation Waits, like the season it describes, is a quiet book, the kind that makes one consider God’s handprints on the natural world and how that world, too, is waiting.
Four books – and four ways to celebrate the season.
Top photograph by Jana Illnerova via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.