Dear friend: 10 gentle Advent resources for your heart & senses 🎄
Here are some questions & recommendations for navigating what might be a gift for your heart this Christmas season.
I used to feel so much pressure from Advent and the countdown to Christmas. This season already felt so full and it was hard not to feel like creating space for the Lord or doing Advent readings was not just one more thing to do in a busy season.
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But since then, I’ve named that I don’t want just one more thing to do, which is true all the time, but especially in these full, festive days. I want something that helps me quiet my heart and be present with the things that really matter. The fullness of this season is exactly why I need something to intentionally slow me down and invite me to experience the Lord’s presence. And I love that participating in an Advent practice can help ground me in the present moment and the things that matter most, with space for however I’m really doing.
I love these words that Annie B Jones wrote in a post on Instagram last November 28, and I promptly wrote them in my journal because of how much they resonated with my heart, coming into Advent:
I (almost) always come limping into Advent, desperate for light, but almost too tired to look for it. Then I remember: The Light came looking for me, and that’s the whole point.
Dear friend, I certainly know what it feels like to limp into Advent, desperate for light. Whether you’re limping this year or not, I hope that you are able to rest in the truth that the Light is looking for you.
Below you’ll find the Advent resources I’ve personally used in past years or ones I intend to use this year. Whether you use something I’m suggesting or something else entirely, I pray you feel the gentle invitation to consider how you’d like to be intentional to create space to experience the Lord’s presence in the weeks ahead. Perhaps these questions will help you listen to where the Lord might be inviting you to lean in:
How are you coming into this season? What would you rank how you’re doing on a scale of 1-10? How are you really doing?
Where do you feel most weary, most in need to taste the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living?
Where might the Lord be inviting you to experience his rest, his gentleness, his love?
What might it look like to posture yourself to receive the Light?
I wonder if one of these offerings might be a gift to your heart in the days ahead—
Behold Your God by Rev. Summer Gross
I’ve been so grateful to learn from Rev. Summer Gross, and have deeply appreciated her gentle voice leading me through Advent with her 16-day “Behold Your God” series, pairing Scripture and stories with the music of Handel’s Messiah delivered to my inbox. This audio experience was a joy to slow down with the past two years. This one begins on December 1, and I loved the space to re-listen to ones that especially met me or to “catch up” if I hadn’t been able to listen to one-a-day.
Peace, my friends, is something tangible. It is as real as a blanket of snow falling because peace is the Presence of a Person.
Peace is the Immanuel here in the room.
Peace is the natural consequence of turning our eyes towards his presence.
The Advent Podcast with Katie Kibbe
My friend, Katie is offering short 5-minute or less podcast episodes for the Advent season. I loved the trailer episode & am looking forward to listening to Katie’s voice & experiencing her gentleness in this way.
Busy people-- prepare your heart with this prayerful pause. Every day this Advent, let's look at the Christmas story in the light of friendship. Escape the overwhelm. Walk away from the drama. Engage in the Christmas story in a new way. For 5 minutes or less each day, invite Peace into your life.
The Calm Christmas Podcast with Beth Kempton
I loved listening to this podcast last year. Beth invites the listener towards gentleness and remembering what matters in practical ways. This one made me feel as though I was in Kate Winslet’s cottage from The Holiday, as Beth’s English accent only adds to the charm and coziness of her words. I feel sensitive to those who have experienced church wounds and might find Advent a bit triggering, and wanted to recommend something lovely that isn’t directly spiritual, although there’s certainly plenty of application for those who want that.
For reading & savoring:
Making Room in Advent by Bette Dickinson
This is the book I’m delighted to be using this year. With art for visio divina, breath prayers and 25 daily readings, this one promises to be a gift for multiple senses. If you’d like to join me in using this beautiful book, you’re welcome to join The Presence Project Facebook group, where others will also be journeying through this book during the month of December. If you’d like to hear more of Bette’s heart, I’d invite you to listen to this interview she did on the Presence Project podcast recently. It was a gift.
But in the midst of my striving, God chases me down with his grace and says, “You don’t have to earn my favor, because you already have it. I have already chosen you and called you. You don’t need to keep running to prove you are enough to everyone. You can slow down now.”
The Art of Christmas by Jane Williams
This is another book I’m intending to use this year. I’m hoping to use it with my kids, as we wait for the bus in the cold mornings from our porch. With a thoughtful reflection and different depictions of the Christmas story, I’m looking forward to using this book and entering into the imaginations of others’ art with my kids. I liked that this one didn’t have “days,” and could be used as it fit into our family time.
Ps. Jane Williams also has a companion book, The Art of Advent that holds a painting for each day of Advent, all the way to Epiphany. This one also looks lovely, and offers a bit more structure, with numbered readings, thoughtful questions & a prayer to accompany each day’s art.
The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
Ann’s rich and lyrical writing naturally makes me slow down, as I soak in her words and imagery. I love the way this book traces the way God lovingly planned to give us Jesus, leading us through the Old Testament narrative. I appreciate that the daily readings don’t start until December 1, so in the past, I’ve begun reading a few days early (this year I would begin on Sunday, November 27, with the start of Advent.) It has always felt like grace to plan for missing a day or two, which inevitably happens with the fullness of the season.
“But in all His relationships, God reaches for man. Reaches for you who have fallen and scraped your heart raw, for you who feel the shame of words that have snaked off your tongue and poisoned corners of your life, for you who keep trying to cover up pain with perfectionism.”
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This isn’t technically an Advent book, but if you start at the beginning of the Jesus Storybook Bible on December 1, you’ll end up at the Christmas story just in time for Christmas, as there are 24 readings leading up to that point. I love the beautiful writing of Sally Lloyd Jones, as she writes each part of the narrative to point to Jesus. There are echoes of Jesus throughout every Old Testament retelling. This one is a favorite year round for our family, but feels especially impactful to read at Christmastime.
“God would keep on rescuing his people. And the time was coming when God would send another brave Hero, like Daniel, who would love God and do what God said–whatever it cost him, even if it meant he would die. And together they would pull off the Greatest Rescue the world has ever known.”
The Advent of the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey
I think this one feels like the Jesus Storybook Bible for Grownups to me. I find at Christmas (and probably all the time) I need less pressure and to-do lists and shoulds. Instead, my heart craves narrative and invitations and stories. This book is just that. It isn’t a traditional devotional, although there are 25 chapters if you choose to read them leading up to Christmas. But you could also read this anytime.
I love that this book is full of familiar Biblical narrative but written with a freshness, as a story all pointing to Jesus. I love the lack of preaching, as it assumes that the power of this story is enough. And it is. This one also sends me to my Bible to compare the compelling writing of Russ Ramsey to the Biblical narrative. I’m so impressed with how much Scripture is used, even as he is using imagination to bring life to familiar stories. In the introduction, he states, “my hope is that this journey through the pages of Scripture will capture your imagination in ways that will serve your life long study of the Bible.” For me, that has been true. I’m grateful.
“The truth was that Moses’ life spanned only a small part of the story he was in. He was a player in the drama of the promise of redemption God had made hundreds of years before he came on the scene. Though this was difficult for Moses, the Lord’s discipline held an important truth for all who would be called upon to lead his people: Moses wasn’t meant to be the hero of Israel’s story. Someone else was.”
Come Lord Jesus by Kris Camealy
I loved the depth of these readings for the Advent season. I read this book in a season where being brave meant being okay to not be okay, and choosing not to pressure myself to read. Yet, on the days that I did have space to read, this book fed my soul. It is a gentle companion for those of us who wait or find ourselves in hard seasons. It helped me think through the longing and waiting that is ours, the gift it is to be expectant and hopeful as we experience the Lord’s presence here.
I read the original paperback version of this book, but Kris Camealy has since released a beautiful hardcover version that includes art and is more of a coffee-table book, as well as an audio version of her book that is emailed to you during Advent.
“Advent invites us to recount the goodness of His grace–remember the gifts we have been given already, rest in the enrichment of Jesus, and anticipate what’s more to come.”
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Asheritah Ciuciu
I love these reflections on the different names of Jesus and what they mean to us, especially in this season of waiting. I appreciated the opportunity for a liturgy-type reading on the Sundays of Advent and the ways to go deeper as an individual or family with the readings. One thing to mention is that there are only five readings plus a Sunday entry per week. If having a day off sounds helpful, this book is written to have that flexibility. I loved these reflections on who Jesus is, savoring different aspects of his character as part of the Christmas season.
“When we submit to His lordship in our lives, we can rest assured that we are in good hands. Unlike earthly lords who are motivated by greed and pride, our Lord is motivated by goodness and righteousness. Our best interests are intimately woven into His, so when we act on what He tells us to do, we inevitably do what will bring us into a more abundant life of joy.”
Dear friend, however you choose to engage with the Lord this holiday season, remember that time spent with the Lord is not wasted. It doesn’t have to look perfect or ideal to “count.” The Lord wants to be part of your real life. You don’t have to finish every entry of a devotional or do certain things to be loved or for him to draw near.
These books and resources are certainly a few ways to posture your heart towards the Lord this season, but they are not the only ways, by far.
May you feel freedom and grace, gentleness and rest as you seek the Lord during the Advent season.
And as always, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to just hit "reply" to this email. Whether you want to share a prayer request, what you’re planning to do this Advent season, or if my words brought up anything for you, I’d be so glad to know.
PS. In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to share that I did receive review copies of some of these books from the publishers. Please rest assured that my opinions and recommendations are entirely my own. I was not required or expected to give a positive review upon receiving these books, and am committed to only recommending resources that I truly believe will be a gift to you.
Thank you to Moody Publishers for the review copy of Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, and to Intervarsity Press for the review copies of The Advent of the Lamb of God, The Art of Advent, The Art of Christmas and Making Room in Advent.
Affiliate links are used in this email as an easy way to support me at no cost to you, if you choose to purchase one of the books mentioned. Thank you, friend!
Thanks for reading the Dear Friend Letters by Alison L Bradley! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.