To help spiritually prepare for the Advent and Christmas seasons, here are some notable books that have recently been published, including one specifically for teens, one for families and one that works for small groups. All can be used for several Advent seasons, as they are not specific to this Church year. They offer us some wonderful options to deepen our prayer life and make the holiday season more meaningful.
“Advent and Christmas: One Day at a Time for Catholic Teens” by Katie Prejean McGrady and Tommy McGrady; Ave Maria Press; August 2020; 64 pp; $2.50
After creating a popular Lenten devotional for teens in 2019, the husband-and-wife team of Katie Prejean McGrady and Tommy McGrady have put together an Advent and Christmas booklet that offers meaningful spiritual reading for teens and adults.
The booklet centers on subjects important to teens: relationships, their future and dealing with stress; it begins with the first Sunday of Advent and goes through Jan. 5. Each week of Advent has a theme: hope, faith, joy and peace. After a short Sunday reflection, readers are offered a choice of three challenges to try during the week. The weekdays have a short reflection, a “Grow Your Soul” piece that suggests an action or thought, and a short prayer. A “Feel Ambitious?” segment invites readers to do a bit extra if they choose. The McGradys are youth ministry specialists, and their new Advent booklet is a practical and engaging tool for both teens and adults.
“Let Us Go Now to Bethlehem: Daily Devotions for Advent and Christmas” by Todd Outcalt; Upper Room Books; September 2020; 112 pp; $13.99
Author Todd Outcalt, a United Methodist pastor and world traveler, has completed three major Christian pilgrimages and authored more than 30 books. His new book, which goes through Epiphany, invites us to take an inward pilgrimage to Bethlehem, seeking Jesus on our journey. Each day begins with a short Scripture passage followed by a provocative and personal observation; a short prayer ends each day.
Notably, this book is written for both individual and small-group use. The small group sessions are set up to meet weekly, with six one-hour gatherings during Advent and Christmas. The small-group guide, with questions for reflection and conversation, are included in the back of the book and can be used by individual readers, too. This inspirational book is appealing and thought-provoking.
“Preparing Room: An Advent Companion” by Russell J. Levenson Jr.; Church Publishing; September 2020; 144 pp; $16.95
An ordained Episcopal priest for nearly 30 years, Russell Levenson Jr. has recently published four seasonal devotional books: “Bits of Heaven: A Summer Companion,” “Finding Shelter: An Autumn Companion,” “Preparing Room: An Advent Companion,” and “A Path to Wholeness: A Lenten Companion.” His Advent book contains 31 meditations along with a preface and afterword. Levenson likens Advent and the beginning of the Christian story of Jesus to the pieces of a quilt. Each day’s offering includes a story from Scripture and then a brief meditation to tie practical and personal meaning to the story. The third piece to each day is “Preparing Room,” which offers a reflection or suggestion as to how we might prepare a bit more room in our hearts for Jesus’ coming. The last part of each day is a brief prayer, either a traditional prayer or one penned by Levenson. This book is an insightful, meaningful Advent guide.
“Is It Christmas Yet? Making Advent Fun and Meaningful for Your Family” by Angela M. Burrin; The Word Among Us Press; July 2020; 48 pp; $6.95
Angela Burrin has written numerous children’s religious books and spent 20 years in education as a teacher and principal. Her new booklet offers substance and fun for families during Advent with weekly, rather than daily, reflections and activities for families.
Each week’s gathering is expected to take around 20 minutes to complete. An opening prayer starts each session, followed by a biblical story that includes a question and some key words for younger children to listen for. Then the “Conversations Starters” lists three questions to choose from that help discover the meaning in each story and spark conversation. A closing prayer and song end each week. Several fun and worthwhile Advent family activities are listed in the back of the book. The busyness of family life can make Advent activities difficult, but this booklet gives families a valuable tool to observe Advent in a special way.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer at the St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict Bookstores.