Five Advent resources to consider

Book Editor Amy Pagliarella suggests a selection of Advent resources for individual and group study.

When Advent returns, as of course it does each year, it can be challenging to wade through the many newly-published books in search of a fresh perspective on beloved stories. So in addition to the longer reviews we publish, we’re giving a shout-out to these additional resources and highlighting favorites from prior seasons to help individuals and churches find the right devotional or Bible study for this year.

For a full list of Advent resource recommendations, see here. You may also want to check out Outlook’s daily Advent devotions. This digital resource is perfect for emailing out to your congregation, adding to the church bulletin or reading with your morning coffee — and it’s only $33.

The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany

Jane Williams
InterVarsity Press, 152 pages | September 06, 2022

This pocket-sized devotional is a straightforward choice for those who find meditating on a painting will draw them in deeper and who appreciate a few simple questions alongside Bible background. Initially, Jane Williams chooses favorites from Western artwork (think Rembrandt and daVinci) before engaging with newer and more diverse works (such as HeQi’s “Nativity” and Meg Wroe’s modern, multi-racial/gendered take on the Trinity). This is the kind of devotional you might return to year after year for a refresher on the basics.

Making Room in Advent: 25 Devotions for a Season of Wonder

Bette Dickinson
InterVarsity Press, 120 pages | September 13, 2022

Artist and writer Bette Dickinson doesn’t want to just tell us about Jesus; she wants us to experience Jesus for ourselves through brief periods of pondering and praying. Her haunting paintings invite meditation and questioning; it is these images that resonate long after the book is closed and returned to the nightstand. Faceless figures embody the emotion and drama of the familiar story in the characters’ postures. Dickinson’s brief reflections are accessible, as she simultaneously draws on her own experiences and affirms the imagined experiences of her readers. She does use exclusively male language for God; while this isn’t consistent with my theology and preference, I found it only mildly distracting.

Advent in Narnia

Heidi Haverkamp
Westminster John Knox Press, 96 pages | September 14, 2015

Although it was published in 2015, Heidi Haverkamp’s warm and creative devotional is included here because it includes something unique: a family/intergenerational component. She uses C.S. Lewis’ children’s allegory The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to help individual readers or small groups experience Advent as a magical place in which Jesus’ light shines in the darkness. Advent in Narnia includes a straightforward leader’s guide to create a four-week series, as well as plans for a family night. Her detailed description of the event is reminiscent of Vacation Bible School — like VBS, it can be done simply or extravagantly, depending on the time and interest of volunteers. There’s a great deal of rich and thoughtful content here that will appeal to fans of C.S. Lewis’s children’s books, as well as those eager to explore the enchantment of the season.

Advent Group Studies

Abingdon Press offers two Advent resources for individual reading or (with the addition of a leader guide and video) for four-week small group studies. Each book leans into the Christmas story from a unique perspective, but both provide context for the birth narrative peppered with modern stories. The DVDs have a warm, cozy feel of an expert sharing biblical teachings in a conversational way — helpful for pastors looking to deliver a high-quality small group during a hectic time. Either program is a good choice for congregations seeking a traditional four-week Bible study; either book works for those who would rather prepare for Christmas by understanding biblical background rather than through devotional reading.

The Angels of Christmas: Hearing God’s Voice in Advent

Susan Robb
Abingdon Press, 128 pages | September 06, 2022

This Advent study focuses on four stories of angels heralding Jesus’ birth, beginning with Gabriel’s appearances to Zechariah and Mary and concluding with angels over Bethlehem. The inclusion of Zechariah, as well as Joseph, highlights pieces of the story that are left out of nativity sets. Robb also presents angels not as characters from Hallmark Christmas movies but as figures who inspire awe and wonder. Angels brought messages straight from God, expecting humans to respond, and Robb’s eagerness that we experience God for ourselves shines through her writing.

Prepare the Way for the Lord: Advent and the Message of John the Baptist

Adam Hamilton
Abingdon Press, 176 pages | September 20, 2022

In Prepare the Way for the Lord, prolific writer Adam Hamilton uses the story of John the Baptist as a way into the nativity. Like Robb, he begins with Zechariah and Elizabeth, relating them to contemporary examples as well as Old Testament figures who shared their struggles. He then skips ahead in the biblical narrative to focus on the adult John, proclaiming Jesus’ ministry. Hamilton includes modern photos of many of the Biblical sites, accompanied with many details of the biblical background, making this a good choice for those seeking a heady introduction to the season.