Advent devotional and group study recommendations

There are so many Advent resources for church leaders to wade through, so we did some of the heavy lifting. Here is Amy Pagliarella's short list for 2023 Advent materials.

Photo by Jessica Mangano on Unsplash

Advent is ripe with possibilities, which is why the publishing world offers numerous devotionals, guides and group studies each year. It’s a lot for church leaders to wade through, so we did it for you! Along with short reviews of recent releases, we’ve offered suggestions for when you might choose one or the other.

Personal favorite…

Ordinary Blessings for the Christmas Season

Meta Herrick Carlson
Broadleaf Books | Published October 3, 2023

Carlson considers every person and situation that may require a blessing this season before offering the just-right words to make us smile knowingly, laugh out loud, or clasp the book to our hearts in gratitude. This slim volume contains wisdom for church employees, mail carriers, parents wrapping gifts and others; her words are broad – inviting us to bear grateful witness to those around us – yet also specific, making us feel seen if we struggle with infertility, addiction or difficult family dynamics exacerbated by holiday together-ness.

While Carlson’s gift is finding sacred moments in the ordinary, her prayers and poems for each day of Advent will satisfy anyone seeking a traditional devotional for the season. Ordinary Blessings works equally well as a gift for a friend, pastor or colleague… or as a gift to yourself, remembering to honor both the holy and mundane this season.

For parents…

Lullaby for the King

Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michelle Carlos
Beaming Books | Published October 10, 2023

This lush picture book introduces little ones to exotic animals who come bearing gifts for the newborn baby Jesus. The slow, regal parade of creatures builds anticipation for Jesus’ birth. There’s nothing cartoon-ish about these illustrations or their poetic texts, making this a feast for the grown-ups reading aloud.

For a church-wide approach to worship and small groups…

Stay Awhile: Advent Lessons in Divine Hospitality

Kara Eidson
Westminster John Knox | Published September 26, 2023

Pastor Kara Eidson offers a welcoming devotional that works particularly well for small groups. Each week includes a thoughtful piece on a theme (invite, plan, prepare, welcome), followed by discussion questions and readings for the rest of the week. Westminster John Knox offers free videos on their YouTube channel, featuring Eidson retelling stories from the book and sharing background on the biblical texts. The book and videos significantly overlap, ensuring that Bible study participants who didn’t read in advance can still participate fully.

Stay Awhile includes worship resources such as liturgy and connections with lectionary texts, making this an excellent choice for busy pastors seeking an Advent theme that resonates in worship and small groups. It’s also accessible for individuals seeking something to read daily or weekly on their own.

For accessible theology…

Advent: The Season of Hope

Tish Harrison Warren
Published August 29, 2023

Christmas: The Season of Life and Light

Emily Hunter McGowin
Published September 12, 2023

The latest installments in InterVarsity Press’ Fullness of Time series, Advent: The Season of Hope and Christmas: The Season of Life and Light blend theology, church history and Bible background into short works written with a pastoral tone. These are, perhaps, “devotionals” for those who yearn for sacred reading yet would not seek out a devotional; they would also serve as “primers” for someone new to the faith and eager to understand more, as well as those who want to connect personal experiences of the holy with a deeper theological understanding.

For a bilingual (Spanish/English) option…

Abide With Us: An Advent Devotional

Paul B. Koch, editor
Chalice Press | Published September 12, 2023

Disciples of Christ pastors join together in Abide With Us, providing short readings for each day in Advent, all the way through Epiphany. What makes it unique is the five devotionals for use with Advent and Christ candle lighting, included in English and Spanish. Focused on the traditional themes for each Sunday, the readings are short enough to be read aloud in worship and accessible enough for a family’s table.

For sermon prep…

The Moment of Truth: Reflections on Incarnation and Resurrection

Samuel Wells
Canterbury Press, 128 pages | Published August 31, 2023

Without the resurrection, Jesus’ birth is just a sweet story … and without the incarnation, Jesus’ death is the killing of a beloved teacher, not of God. Samuel Wells’ essays for Advent and Christmas encompass Jesus’ whole story, sprinkled with church history and references to contemporary culture, as he connects the gospel truths of Christmas and Easter.

The Moment of Truth is theologically deep and rich, as we have come to expect from Wells. It’s also filled with his trademark humor and wistful stories from Wells’ pastoral experiences as a British vicar located in the heart of London. This is a book to savor and sit with — it’s the one I will re-read over Thanksgiving as that first-Sunday-of-Advent sermon percolates and look forward to returning to it at Easter time.

For individuals and groups…

Abingdon Press offers several devotionals to be read solo or paired with a Leader’s Guide and DVD for small groups. These are all traditional, solid offerings – which you choose may depend on which leader speaks to you, or to your small group (See sample videos at

Heaven and Earth

Will Willimon
Abingdon Press | Published September 19, 2023

Willimon’s trademark tone – jovial, straightforward and occasionally a little salty – shines through here, as he intersperses startling apocalyptic biblical passages with folksy stories of church life. Each chapter introduces a theme (meanwhile, surprised, light, rejoice) that works particularly well as a once-weekly practice yet can also be broken down into seven vignettes for individual daily reading.

An Unlikely Advent: Extraordinary People of the Christmas Story

Rachel Billups
Abingdon Press | Published September 5, 2023

Billups embraces the “unlikeliness” of the Jesus story to call us to find our “God-purpose” by digging deeper into the stories of the nativity’s supporting cast — Elizabeth and Zechariah, Herod, the Magi and the shepherds. She starts with stories from her church, life and family, encouraging us to apply ancient stories to modern life. By focusing on lesser-known characters like the shepherds – or even a reviled villain, like Herod – she invites us to see our nativity sets in fresh ways. (You can find the leader’s guide here.)

Experiencing Christmas

Matt Rawle
Abingdon Press | Published September 19, 2023

In Experiencing Christmas, Rawle suggests that our senses are heightened at the holidays. So he finds a unique way into the Christmas story by asking, “Do you see what I see?” (and hear, taste and feel). Each week opens with a story from his life and concludes with simple questions to ponder or discuss. Rawle relates each reflection to the biblical stories, of course, but by focusing on what we are already experiencing in the season leading up to Christmas, he creates a particularly accessible guide for readers and leaders.

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Don’t forget the Outlook’s Advent offering as well — Apocalyptic Advent: Embracing Hope in the Second Coming of Christ.

We live in a world filled with anxiety, uncertainty and conflict. What word does Jesus have for us in this space? How can we adapt and plan for what is coming?

These are the questions that Teri McDowell Ott asks in her 2023 Advent devotional. Your purchase includes several digital versions — perfect for printing into booklets, inserting into bulletins, or emailing to your community. Learn more.