Topics, approaches vary in new Advent studies
While the summer sun bears down, trips to the mountains or beach are recent memories or eagerly anticipated and Christmas remains several months away, planning for Advent is rapidly approaching.
For 2017, Abingdon Press and The Upper Room are introducing nine new studies. Included are studies emphasizing Joseph and creation care, devotions specifically for families and a coloring book. While several of the studies are for churchwide or small group use, all can be used for individual devotions. Although some of the books will release in late summer or early fall, most are now available for pre-order.
Advent: A Calendar of Devotions
Advent: A Calendar of Devotions 2017 (Abingdon Press) contains brief readings for each day in Advent. This year's collection of Scripture passages, short devotions and closing prayers honor the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation as they reflect the writings of the Protestant reformers. Sold in packages of 10, the booklets are easy to include in Advent mailings, especially to parishioners unable to attend services and visitors or to share as a part of homebound or prison ministry. The Rev. Donald K. McKim developed the collection, which will be available in August.
All Earth Is Waiting
All Earth Is Waiting: Good News for God's Creation at Advent (Abingdon Press) explores the Advent themes of hope, preparation, joy and peace with the heavens and earth in mind. The Rev. Katie Z. Dawson, lead pastor at Immanuel United Methodist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote the reflections calling readers to consider how all creation longs for the coming of Christ. Taking seriously the notion that the good news of Christ is good news for all the world, Dawson highlights the responsibility to care for Earth in preparation for Christ's return. Creation care is among the topics on which she blogs at SalvagedFaith.com. A thematic Bible study for use by individuals and small groups during Advent, each chapter offers discussion questions and a focus for the week that will encourage readers to engage in a specific act of creation care. Also included are calls to worship, prayers of confession and hymn suggestions for use in small groups or in corporate worship.
Christmas Gifts That Won't Break
A revised edition of the book by popular storyteller and teacher the Rev. James Moore, Christmas Gifts that Won't Break (Abingdon Press) includes stories, Scriptures and reflections to explore the spirit of Christmas and God's unbreakable gifts of hope, love, joy and peace. New to this edition is a fifth chapter for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. Also new are daily devotions by the Rev. Jacob Armstrong, founding pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
Useful for individual or family devotions, the book can also be the basis for a five-session study on using one's God-given gifts. A Leader Guide and DVD are available as are resources for youth and children.
Absent from much of the biblical narrative, Joseph never spoke a word, but his courageous actions were crucial to the birth of Christ and God's salvation plan for humanity. In Faithful (Abingdon Press), the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, traces Joseph's story from his beginnings as a humble carpenter to his all-important role as the earthly father of Jesus Christ. In this telling of the nativity story from Joseph's perspective, readers will learn how Joseph encountered circumstances beyond his control and emerged, with God's help, to be abundantly blessed. Joseph offers an example of humbly obeying God and faithfully moving forward in the strength that God provides.
Faithful can be read as a stand-alone book or can be combined with the DVD featuring Hamilton in 10-12-minute sessions, Leader Guide and youth and children's resources to create a churchwide study.
In Days to Come
Many people end their celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25, but In Days to Come (The Upper Room), the Rev. George Donigian reminds readers that the celebration is just beginning. Now pastor of New Hope United Methodist Church in Anderson, South Carolina, Donigian offers meditations that begin with Advent and continue through Jan. 6, Epiphany.
A merger of several traditions – Advent calendars, ancient Advent prayers known as the "O Antiphons," the traditional celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25 and the Armenian Orthodox celebration of Christmas on Jan. 6 – is the basis for four meditations per week. While each reading stands alone, the meditations are rooted in a weekly theme. Donigian's writing style is conversational and wide-ranging to include topics such as "An Editor," "A Counting Song," "Prudence" and "Chrismons."
Mandalas, Candles and Prayers
Based on the four candles of the Advent wreath, Mandalas, Candles and Prayer: A Simply Centered Advent (The Upper Room) weaves together the popular practice of coloring with four simple methods of contemplative prayer. Each chapter includes a short vignette, an explanation of the weekly theme and prayer method, a simple candle-lighting liturgy, seven mandalas for each week and a closing prayer of illumination.
Through reading, praying, lighting candles and coloring the mandalas, the Rev. Sharon Seyfarth Garner, a United Methodist pastor, spiritual director and retreat leader in Cleveland, Ohio, helps readers remain centered on God during a busy time.
Pauses for Advent
Designed for individuals – including those with little or no understanding of Advent – Pauses for Advent: Words of Wonder offers short meditations to guide readers to a deeper understanding of the season. The Rev. Trevor Hudson, author, teacher, spiritual director and Methodist minister in South Africa, focuses on one biblical word of wonder each day of Advent.
Hudson also briefly explores the lives and thoughts of four significant characters in the Christmas narrative, encouraging readers to immerse themselves in the dramatic story. His simple approach provides a doable daily practice and gently leads readers to discover how they can open their hearts and lives more generously to God.
The Lord Is Our Light
The Lord Is Our Light (Abingdon Press) is the Advent 2017 study based on Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary. The Rev. Elaine Crawford, senior pastor of Newman Chapel United Methodist Church in Newman, Georgia, calls readers to explore their hope for new beginnings and praise God while awaiting again the birth of Christ in our lives. She also invites imagining the future culmination of hope in Christ's death, resurrection and second coming.
The five-session study includes commentary and reflection on key Bible readings from the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Epistles to help participants understand, appreciate and engage in meaningful and joyous celebrations of Advent and Christmas and to live each day in God's light through Jesus Christ. The study book includes a guide for leading small groups.
Total Christmas Makeover
In Total Christmas Makeover: 31 Devotions to Celebrate with Purpose (Abingdon Press), author and Bible teacher Melissa Spoelstra urges giving your Christmas a makeover with this practical approach to help your family learn what it means truly to celebrate their Savior.
A 31-day devotional, Total Christmas Makeover provides a practical approach for families to turn their attention toward God's grace as they prepare for Christmas. Spoelstra teaches parents to be intentional during the Advent season about focusing on Jesus' birth and not the things of this world. It provides practical hands-on ideas, including ritual and service ideas, ways to spend time strengthening relationships and suggested rest activities to reflect on God.
The Rev. Kathy Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine, publications of United Methodist Communications.