Christian Living · Non-fiction

Anticipating Advent

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Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God

Author: Bobby Gross
Published: InterVarsity Press | 2009
Length: 321 pages

Buy: Amazon

The most magical time of the year is almost upon us. Twinkle lights and evergreens, the smell of cinnamon and the taste of hot chocolate. In all of this nestling away from winter’s chill we also have the opportunity to re-center and ponder Christ, preparing our hearts for Him anew. In the church year this time has been called Advent and begins this year on Nov. 27th, mere weeks from now. I will be taking the next couple weeks to introduce some books that I will be using this year during Advent and Christmastide.

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Most people have heard of Advent and Lent, but not everyone knows that the dates of the Church Year encompasses not just these holidays but the entire circuit of a year. The difference is that the Church Year starts with Advent rather than waiting for New Years, so it is on its own schedule. When you follow the church calendar you center your year around Christ’s story as the year begins with Christ’s birth (Advent), goes through his death (Lent) and resurrection (Eastertide), and beyond into how we should now live in light of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (Ordinary Time). This first book I would like to bring to your attention provides reading for this entire year cycle, though the upcoming season of Advent is the perfect time to begin the readings.

Bobby Gross’ Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God was published in 2009 and has become the standard for walking people through what it looks like to center our lives around Christ’s story.  I have been so privileged to use this book in my own reflections because Gross’ short comments on the biblical passages stop me mid-thought with their insight while providing a format that doesn’t do all the thinking for you.

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After an initial introduction that discusses the meaningfulness of “Sacred Time” as a whole, the sections are divided by season. Gross introduces the upcoming season, touching on topics such as historical context, including the origin of associated traditions. He reflects on the spiritual heartbeat of the season, and offers specific suggestions for “inhabiting” these weeks—physical ways we can live out the spiritual truths we set aside this time to meditate on.

After this, the devotional focus is given full reign. Each week has an opening prayer along with a closing response specific to that week’s topic. Six passages are chosen, evenly pulling from Old and New Testaments, the Gospels, and Psalms. Each passage has a corresponding paragraph helping us think through the passages. These passages and reflections are not divided by day. Rather, the three most important scripture sections are highlighted, and readers are welcomed to go at their own pace. Taking things a week at a time, the focus is on how the different parts of scripture comment on one another about the topic on spotlight.

For Advent, we learn about the Christmas tree and Advent Wreath as standing against the otherwise dead winter with light and life, pray the “O” Antiphons that have been sung since the seventh century, and cultivate a posture of waiting in hope. In the progression of the four weeks we remember God’s plan of redemption since the beginning of time, celebrate Christ’s incarnation of this redemption, and long for his return.

In reading this book I have gotten the sense that I have come to know Bobby a little bit. He writes in a very personal manner as if everything he has chosen to say comes from deep within him. He pours himself out here because he is writing about what he himself has been molded by, and yet it is beyond him. This isn’t a book pushed out to fulfill a marketing niche, but a sincere guide worth returning to. Despite his spiritual focus, Gross speaks in a very practical manner; he cuts through to the reality of how our faith ought to push back on our daily life. There is a richness here that will inform your Advent preparations whether you are a long-time practitioner of the church year or new to the idea.

Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press

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