For many, the Christmas story stands alone, lifted with huge parentheses out of the New Testament — maybe delivered in Linus’s hushed boy soprano, and then tucked away with the durable resin nativity set and the white twinkly lights until next year.
It’s a great story, so it’s easy to see why authors of every creed are drawn to its rich narrative. Left in context, of course, it holds a pivotal place in redemptive history, and since it is a Word that was given to us (John 1:14), it is natural to use words and the magic of story to give substance to our celebration.
For me, every holiday is made more festive by the inclusion of books that heighten my understanding and appreciation of the occasion and that encourage me to enter in, to be present to the beauty. Here are some favorites that I’ve written about over the past year (I’ve linked to my reviews if you want more detail). Maybe they’ll make your celebration more merry, too!
Sarah Arthur says it so well: “We risk in our time, losing the words that truly have meaning, the stories and works of substance.” Well, to keep that from happening, she has collected some of the best to help us along in our Advent meditations. Light upon Light (Paraclete Press) is a literary guide to be savored, day by day. Last year through the dark of December, I found Sarah’s words to be true — it was liking “lighting one candle after another.”
The Invention of Lefse (Crossway) took me back to a time when celebration was simpler — but joy was more elaborate.
Reminiscent of Louisa May Alcott’s story-telling, this quaint story makes a great read-aloud for elementary-age students — and a great attitude-adjuster for the more “mature” who could profit from a dose of Christmas spirit.
One Man’s Meat by E.B. White is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas book, but I have a tendency to return to it during the Christmas season just because of White’s patient rendering of life’s daily duties within the framework of a story. Next time you read Charlotte’s Web to your kids, pay attention to the lists, and you’ll see that White was a champion of the particular. For me, that’s a needed respite in the whirlwind we call celebration here on this planet.
I turn to Luci Shaw’s poetry throughout the year, but I must say that very few writers capture the mystery of the incarnation as she does. A Widening Light and Accompanied by Angels are collections of poetry that delight in the mystery of God made flesh.
Last Christmas, I was reading John Owen’s Mortification of Sin — over hundred pages on the truth of one verse: Romans 8:13. There’s nothing like a little Puritan theology to heighten my awareness that there was a lot more going on in that stable than the Hallmark Channel has portrayed. Here’s a quote from Owen:
“There is enough in Jesus Christ to yield thee relief. . .There is sufficient provision in Him for relief and assistance.”
Since having read The Mortification of Sin, I now read Romans 8:13 with appreciation for the truth that killing sin is all of grace, all of the Spirit, and flows from the “good news of great joy” that we celebrate when we say “Merry Christmas!”
Reading out loud to my kids for over twenty years has given me a love for picture books and for stories that are often truer than fact, and this year, I have discovered the joy of also reviewing children’s lit.
This breath-taking little gem is the most inspired board-book I’ve ever read. Sally Lloyd Jones pictures the occasion of Jesus’ birth as an evening of breathless anticipation and enthusiastic sharing of the news: “It’s time! It’s time!” Everyone from barn owls to great white whales and “every single blade of grass” makes the announcement, causing me to think, “Yes, this is what the earnest expectation of the creation would really look like — if only we took time to notice.”
M is for Manger is a Christmas alphabet book with adorable illustrations, large and lively pastel letters that are just right for little fingers to trace, and text that can accommodate little wigglers or older children who want the whole story.
On the first Sunday of Advent, I had the fun of sharing The Sparkle Box with the children in my Sunday School program. (The adults were there too, but we didn’t mind.) I predict that this book will have a long run, influencing families to include Jesus in their Christmas celebration by sharing His love with the invisible and the unloved.
It is my Christmas prayer for you, dear readers, that you will take some time during this season of celebration to behold the Christ child, to heed the message of the angel by paying attention to His beauty. Start with His Word. Then, if you have any time left over, open the pages of a book, pour a cup of tea (coffee’s good, too!), and let the Story of all stories fill your heart with joy.
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