From Hope to Joy: Advent and Christmas/Epiphany

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

To be sure, the decorations, gifts, candy and cookies were huge hits, but even as a child, church events around Christmastime captured the imagination of this Illinois boy.  Powerful stories and songs about the coming of Jesus carried anticipation, drama, miracle, mystery, wonderment, and celebration that brought together God, angels and all people—including a kid like me.  From small simple gatherings to elaborate pageants, each created special memories and valuable open-ended questions.  And that's one more reason this blog exists about Christ-centered theology that shapes worship.

I’d like to suggest four helpful books—two that address the entire church year, and two that are specific to Advent, Christmas and Epiphany (each book is available at  Even if you normally do no more than light another candle on the Advent wreath and add one more verse of  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” each week—these books offer scriptures, readings and thoughtful reflections to help inspire your imagination for more.

My favorite is The Meaning Is in the Waiting:  The Spirit of Advent by Dr. Paula Gooder (2009 Paraclete Press).  This 144 page paperback is not a “how to” book, but a series of reflections inspired by the Bible that are meant to help us think more about waiting—our own waiting and the waiting in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary.  It is about active waiting and changing the focus of our lives from ourselves to God.  Gooder (pictured here) reminds us that God is actively waiting as well.

God With Us:  Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas (2007 Paraclete Press, hardcover 185 pages) is a beautiful collection of meditations, Scripture, prayer, history and fine art that point to the mystery and wonder of God made flesh.  Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe, the authors includes top writers Eugene Peterson, Kathleen Norris, Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin and Luci Shaw.

Introducing the Lessons of the Church Year, by Frederick Borsch (2009 Morehouse Publishing) contains scriptures for the entire ecumenical lectionary (we are in year C, but the book includes A, B and C) as well as concise introductions that can be used as a few simple words before each reading, or as stepping stones to broader messages.

With Burning Hearts:  Welcoming the Word in Year C by Verna Holyhead (2006 Liturgical Press) offers weekly Old and New Testament readings and provides theological context as well tying the scriptures to everyday concerns.  John Wesley is to have said that his preaching was successful when he “set himself on fire, and others came to watch him burn.”  Holyhead provides thoughtful introductions to each season as well as fresh images in hopes of striking a flame in each of us in the Church’s year of grace.

The Revised Common Lectionary is also offered online as a service of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library at

In just a couple of days I’ll post favorite hymns, songs and CD’s for the upcoming seasons, but it would be great to hear about your favorites too, as well as whatever things have worked especially well in making Advent or Christmas services special blessings in your congregations.