One of my favorite Advent traditions is reading. Just this morning, I got up, turned on the Christmas tree lights and nearby lamp, grabbed a stack of books and a cup of coffee, and read. Oh, I also put on a CD of classical Christmas music.
Most of what I am currently reading is not tied to the Advent season. Most are books I am hastening through to finish before the end of the year. But I do include some Advent readings. Every season invites us to explore or revisit certain books. The old and frequently read compete with the new and unread. For this season, there are plenty of good reads to enjoy.
Today I began reading from The Incarnation in the Gospels by Daniel Doriani, Philip Graham Ryken, and Richard Phillips. It is published by P & R Publishing (one of my all time favorite publishers) and is a part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series (of which I own a few volumes and covet them all).
This book consists of good solid sermons from the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. There are four sermons from each Gospel account of Christ’s first coming, along with several appendixes providing helps for pastors and churches during the Advent season.
My plan is to read a sermon a day for the next week or two. Today’s opening message was on Christ’s genealogy from Matthew 1. Doriani writes, “There is no doubt that the Gospels, not least Matthew, take the greatest interest in the question “Who?” Who is this who is born after such preparation, amid such signs and portents?….The whole gospel of Matthew asks and the whole gospel of Matthew tells who this is.” Great sermon on what promises to be an enjoyment book to read and celebrate.
In past years, I have many times pulled In the Fullness of Time off the shelf and read through it for hints and helps in preparing sermons and lessons for the Advent season. As the subtitle to this book by Paul L. Maier states, A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. This book is not merely a reference work or a historical study. It is good reading for the soul during this season.
Mark is the only Gospel writer to skip right past any reference to the birth of Jesus Christ. Tim Keller’s book King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus is based on a series of sermons he gave on Mark’s gospel. I always associate this book with Advent. I think it is primarily because I first read this book some years ago during December. But more important, I think the essential message of Keller’s treatment of Mark is fitting for the season. The essentials of the Gospel story are the full story and its meaning, and not merely the details of Jesus’ nativity. Jesus was both (1) born a King and (2) born to die on the cross. So this book hits the essentials of the Advent and Christmas season.
A few years back, I read The Lord and His Prayer by Bishop N. T. Wright. I was preaching on the Lord’s Prayer at the time and it was during the summer. But Wright originally preached the sermons in this book during the Advent season. Because of the broader application and meaning of Scripture, all Scriptural truth is God’s truth and is profitable for instruction, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. All of the Bible instructs us at all times and, therefore, is fitting for the season.
Several years ago, I read quite a bit from Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. By theography, the authors seek to write a theological biography of Jesus. The Advent story doesn’t begin with the birth of Christ or even with the announcement by the angel to Mary. The authors deal with the bigger picture of Christ as the second Person of the Trinity and His role in creation. Then there is what they call “The first negative note in the Bible,” which is the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.
Just glancing back through this book reminds me of how much I enjoyed it in the past. It is pleading for a second and more complete reading.
A reading of the edition of St. Athanasius: On the Incarnation as shown above gives several benefits. First, note the introduction by C. S. Lewis. One could say, “Case closed” at this point, but wait, for it gets even better. Lewis’ introduction was his incredible essay titled “On the Reading of Old Books.” That essay is about the best case for reading classics and old established books ever written. Second, this book introduces the reader to one of the great early church fathers. It is relatively easy to buy the Early Church Fathers book set in our time, and the set looks great on the shelves. But it is challenging to know where to begin and how to read these great theologians and apologists from the early centures. Athanasius’ delightful study of the Incarnation is a good beginning.
And that is the third point. Athanasius was not writing a “Christmas book.” He was exploring the depth and meaning of the Incarnation. It is the fact of Incarnation and the not the sentimentality of a little baby that gives the season its meaning.
Another favorite book that I have often read from and used is Christmas Spirit by Gregory Wilbur and George Grant. I have borrowed ideas and quotes from this on many occasions. This book includes stories, hymns, traditions, backgrounds to the season, and quotable quotes. Both author/compilers are friends of mine, but the book stands on its merit regardless of personal connections.
I don’t know if we have ever consistently made it all the way through Christ in Christmas: A Family Christmas Advent Celebration by James Dobson, Charles Swindoll, James Montgomery Boice, and R. C. Sproul. But we have enjoyed this book (i.e.. the opening chapters) on many occasions through the years. This is not a “read from cover-to-cover” book; rather, this is for the family to read from and enjoy as a family.
I have The Christ of Christmas by James Montgomery Boice on my shelf for future readings. Maybe, I will get to this year.
COMING UP NEXT…AND HOPEFULLY SOON: Novels, stories, poems, and histories for the Advent season.