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Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

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Though Christians the world over make yearly preparations for Lent, there s a conspicuous lack of good books for that other great spiritual season: Advent. All the same, this four-week period leading up to Christmas is making a comeback as growing numbers reject shopping-mall frenzy and examine the deeper meaning of the season.

Ecumenical in scope, these fifty devotions invite the reader to contemplate the great themes of Christmas and the significance that the coming of Jesus has for each of us not only during Advent, but every day. Whether dipped into at leisure or used on a daily basis, "Watch for the Light" gives the phrase holiday preparations new depth and meaning.

Includes writings by Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt, Sylvia Plath, J. B. Phillips, Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster, Henri Nouwen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Kathleen Norris, Meister Eckhart, St. Thomas Aquinas, Karl Rahner, Isaac Penington, Madeleine L Engle, Alfred Delp, Loretta Ross-Gotta, William Stringfellow, J. Heinrich Arnold, Edith Stein, Philip Britts, Jane Kenyon, John Howard Yoder, Emmy Arnold, Karl Barth, Oscar Romero, William Willimon, Johann Christoph Arnold, Gail Godwin, Leonardo Boff, G. M. Hopkins, Evelyn Underhill, Dorothy Day, Brennan Manning, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Romano Guardini, Annie Dillard, Martin Luther, St. John Chrysostom, Giovanni Papini, Dorothee Soelle, C. S. Lewis, Gustavo Gutierrez, Philip Yancey, J. T. Clement, Thomas Merton, Eberhard Arnold, Ernesto Cardenal, T. S. Eliot, John Donne, Gian Carlo Menotti and Jurgen Moltmann.

344 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2001

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Charles Moore

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 223 reviews
Profile Image for booklady.
2,231 reviews65 followers
January 5, 2019
This is like a Russell Stover box of Spiritual Christmas chocolates; some, well most were positively delicious! A few were, ‘eh’, but overall, I wouldn’t mind getting this gift every year!

You might expect such a varied collection given the authors and their times—St. John Chrysostom and Sylvia Plath; Thomas Aquinas and Henri Nouwen; C.S. Lewis and Kierkegaard; Romero and Luther, to name but a few; mostly well-knowns, but not all. It was many of my favorite spiritual authors, plus a few I would not think of as ‘spiritual’ yet their insights were equally flavorful. The readings are spread out from November 27th to January 7th, roughly the time frame of covering the beginning of Advent to the approximate celebration of Epiphany, for a total of 45 reflections.

Short and long, light-hearted and deeply reflective, the topics centered around the Incarnation of Our Savior, yet seem to touch on every imaginable facet of this great mystery of God entering History to become human. There were: Christmas memories, poetry, exegesis, homiletic and even a delightful children’s conversation about what ‘really’ happened 2000 years ago!

Apparently from my notes scribbled in the margins, I read this back in 2005 and 2006 and marked some of my favorites. Either my tastes are consistent* or I have not made any progress in the past 13-14 years, because I still prefer the same pieces:
December 20, Brennan Manning, Shipwrecked at the Stable;
December 21, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Coming of Jesus in our Midst;
December 22, Romano Guardini, The Holy Mother; and,
December 30, Philip Yancey, The Visited Planet.

One of the richest, most diverse collections of spiritual writings I have encountered and without exception my favorite collection of Christmas writings.

Yes, I know, the readings were supposed to last until January 7th. They were so good, I read ahead. I have been doing that all along, reading ahead, rereading, and rereading and so on. ‘And the Word was made Flesh and dwelt among us!’

*While I was also deeply moved and learned a great deal from other works, for some reason, these stood out enough last time for me to take note and I was struck by the fact that I agreed with my young self. Very often I do not.

December 12, 2018: All the while I am racing through the light, fluffy, fun Christmas fare, in the background I am slowly pondering my way through this...

I've had this book for years and read something from it most Advents. It has a selection for every day from November 24th-January 7th. I'm only on December 2nd now but that's because I spent so much time this year on December 1st, Meister Eckhart's selection called, "Where God Enters". If I do not read any of the other entries, staying with this one for the remainder of the Advent/Christmas Season, will be enough. I would like to say that he makes so many things clear, except that as soon as I think things grow clear, they again become cloudy, as is the case with God. My mind is ever small and incapable of holding His Mind. Indeed, St. Augustine's mind was a hole in the sand to the ocean of the Mind of God; well, my mind is a teaspoon to both. So, I only know, I do not know, which is not modesty nor false humility but simply truth. Yet, even this little mind, likes to ponder...
Profile Image for Kerith.
620 reviews
January 3, 2016
I can't remember how many times I've read through this book. Some years I would start and not finish, but this year I stayed the course. The readings vary, ranging from Sylvia Plath's "Black Rook in Rainy Weather" which I have printed out and hanging up in my cubicle at work, to selections from Madeleine L'Engle and Kathleen Norris, who are favorites of mine. CS Lewis is here, along with TS Eliot, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many others.

The season of Advent can easily be lost in our time, a time which really assigns Christmas to the whole month of December, and can often mean just preparing for Christmas day -- buying gifts and decorating and so forth. I find reading the offerings in this book allows me to detach from the rest of the world for a while, and follow the cold, dark journey to the light of the Nativity, and on into the new season. If you follow the seasons of the year, both on the calendar and in the church, you will enjoy beginning the Advent season with this and following it all the way to Epiphany.
Profile Image for Karen Floyd.
368 reviews19 followers
January 8, 2014
This is a book of daily readings from the beginning of Advent through Epiphany, by a wide variety of writers from early Christianity to the present. I'd been wanting to read it for several years and decided this was the year to treat myself to it. I'm glad I did. The writers' backgrounds are many and what they said always gave me something to think about, even when I disagreed. I was particularly pleased that the editors included poems as well as prose - T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Jane Kenyon. One of the readings reminded me that Jesus was born to bring about liberation and a social revolution, where the rich and powerful would be overturned and lose their wealth and power, where the disenfranchised would rise up, and there would be justice, enough to eat for everyone, and true peace, without even the desire for war and battle, the kind of peace that would have men literally turning their swords into plowshares. Jesus' birth, this author said, was not signaling a time of consumption and excess, as modern Christmas has become, or even the convivial and cozy family holiday we like to think it, a "Hallmark Christmas" as a priest I know calls it. And I do love that aspect of Christmas myself, I admit. This was an always-needed reminder that Jesus was not born to make us comfy and self-satisfied. He was born in a stable where there were real animals, producing real, and smelly, manure, making their animal noises, and Jesus was laid in a manger, on real, prickly, hay. No blond, pristinely robed Mary looking sweet and pretty. What happened to all the blood involved in a birth? It would not have been clean or pretty, or cozy. Jesus came to make people uncomfortable and to turn things upside-down. We need to remember this when we're out buying video games and this year's "in" toy.
Profile Image for raffaela.
203 reviews34 followers
January 7, 2020
Truly, a mixed bag. Some of the selections were excellent, some were just meh, and a few were downright yuck (for some reason the editors decided that including liberation theologians was a good idea). More than a few of the selections were modern (20th century) as well, and I would've preferred a more varied historical selection.

Overall I liked this okay and may even read it again someday, but it wasn't my favorite and I will continue to look for something better.
Profile Image for Naomi.
1,385 reviews275 followers
January 7, 2010
I used this devotional through the Advent and Christmas season (it ends January 7)as a way to focus and ponder some significant christian writers approaches to Advent, Christmas, and the beginning of Epiphany. The collection is marvelous, in part because just when I was delighted to be reading a collection of liberationist texts, I would encounter a piece that really challenged me or was so caught up in doctrine that I had to parse it out, piece by piece, bow to the author, and then find a way to connect my own spirit and heart to something that felt so alien to me. After all, that's another of the messages of Christmas: meeting the stranger. Since the readings weren't matched against 2009's lectionary cycle (C), but with cycle A of 2001, there were some really interesting gaps that invited me into bridging again. Advent 2010 will bring us back to the same cycle that the book was published for, so I recommend this as a sometimes tough devotional filled with broad array of approaches to Advent and Christmas.
Profile Image for Margaret.
232 reviews28 followers
January 7, 2020
Daily readings, beginning November 24 and ending January 7. Not all of them perfectly fit my theology; not all were to my liking; some of them I couldn't really understand. But it's a lovely book to read through, or dip into randomly, during the season.
Profile Image for Shannon.
1,546 reviews
January 9, 2013
I didn't get Watch for the Light until nearly the end of Advent, so I can't give a complete review. What I can tell you this is: this is not your average Advent devotional. Filled with thought provoking essays and beauty like the T.S. Eliot poem "Journey of the Magi" (perhaps the single most beautiful thing I have read so far this year), this book is lovely. Even better than its contents alone, it goes through January 7, epiphany. When December 25 has come and gone and your holiday commitments have waned, you can use this book to help you settle in and ponder the true gift that Christmas is.

If you're looking for a way to help you fight the busy, busy, busy, rush, rush, rush of the Christmas season in our country, this book is ammunition for the fight. It will help point your soul again and again to rest and quiet, waiting and watching.
Profile Image for Jamie.
359 reviews5 followers
January 16, 2013
I chose this as my devotional reading right before Christmas from a bag of books lent to me by a minister at my church.

This is a collection of writings, speeches, conversations, and sermons from saints, ministers, and lay people from a variety of Christian backgrounds. Some of the daily readings really helped me think about Advent or Christmas in a different way that I hadn't considered before. Others seemed to ramble on without much of a point. The readings were not necessarily connected to a passage of scripture, so it wasn't my preferred type of devotional. Generally I enjoyed the readings, but this was not one of my favorite devotional guides.
Profile Image for Laurie.
436 reviews
January 1, 2015
I've had this book for several years. It has dated entries for every day of Advent, from the earliest possible first day, November 24, through the day after Epiphany, January 7. I have never read more than a handful of readings prior to this year. Beginning on December 2, I've read every one so far, and discovered so many gems, from writers both contemporary and historic. An excellent anthology to dip into, or use as a devotional.
Profile Image for Katelyn Collison.
206 reviews31 followers
December 17, 2015
I can't even finish this book. It's TERRIBLY dry.
I got it last year from the publisher, but we were so near Christmas that I didn't get a chance to start. However, I was happy to do it this year!
But it's not very good at all. Some of the chapters are interesting, but for the most part - I have no idea what they're talking about. And I don't feel any more enriched or more in communion with God by having read nearly half of it.

I tried. I really did try.
Profile Image for Rachel | All the RAD Reads.
995 reviews1,081 followers
January 2, 2019
I found out about this book from Emily Freeman's post of advent book suggestions here, and I knew I would love it as soon as I saw it. So many of my favorite writers were included in this book (Lewis, Merton, Dillard, etc.) and it was a thoughtful, intentional, not fluffy daily dose of reading that I really enjoyed throughout advent, Christmas, and even after. This is a GOOD one. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Jenni Simmons.
152 reviews57 followers
November 30, 2014
I pick up this collection every year during Advent & Christmas. I don't care for a few of the essays, but I love others.
Profile Image for Hannah Bergstrom de Leon.
500 reviews4 followers
January 14, 2023
More often than not, I open a devotional, start it and never finish. This has become a pattern for me because I am a firm believer in setting a devotional down if it isn’t connecting and spiritual and emotional connection is hard.

So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I connected with the devotional complication, “Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.” As a preacher they offered insight and various perspectives to the traditional scriptures for the church calendar. Many of my sermons were enriched through these readings and I was able to offer weekly blessings inspired by the writings themselves.

From the perspective of the individual working through the annual consumer chaos of the “Christmas season,” this book offered a daily touchpoint to Christ and the deeper calling and message of Christmas that is missed in the “trying to get Christmas right” each year. The voices from around the world and throughout time offered wisdom and insight I was able to incorporate directly into my daily life. I found this compilation a gift from God’s spirit from November 24th through January 7th.

I highly recommend this as an Advent/Christmas devotional for those who engage in daily devotions. The authors and genres of writing are wide and diverse and there is something for everyone in this packaged devotional.

Want more book content? Follow me at thebookwar.com
Profile Image for Kyle Johnson.
161 reviews22 followers
December 30, 2021
Absolutely fantastic compilation of Advent and Christmas readings. An absurdly wide range of personalities and theological perspectives represented without sacrificing any quality or blurring the central focus on the coming of the Light.

"It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did … for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.” -Frederick Buechner
Profile Image for Becca.
437 reviews18 followers
January 7, 2020
This is the first time I've read through a book of daily readings for Advent/Christmas. I love the idea, but I don't like this particular collection as a whole. Some selections were inspiring and well written, but some others had really weird theology. For now I'm going to keep my copy, and if I can't find something better before next Advent I will probably read it again... But I'm glad I didn't pay more than 50¢ for the book.
Profile Image for Becca Barnett.
1 review8 followers
January 5, 2014

Various Authors, Paperback, Orbis Books, 2004

Excellent anthology of readings for Advent through the day after the Epiphany from significant Christian writers from 350 AD (St. John Chrysostom) to 1090 AD (Bernard of Clairveux) to the present ( e.g., Kathleen Norris, Annie Dillard, and Gustavo Gutierrez). Readings are a little longer than books in this genre--up to eight pages or more--so do not leave the readings until Saturday night for a discussion group on Sunday.

All the readings have been very powerful because, through exploring the themes of Advent, Christmas, and the Epiphany, the central existential, theological, religious, and spiritual questions of our lives are raised and discussed.

The readings call us into this moment to see how we are or are not receiving the continual coming of Jesus Christ and how are responding. They point us (new Christians and spiritually mature Christians alike) in the direction of ever-greater union with God through Jesus Christ and toward dwelling more fully in the Kingdom of God. In doing so, we will reap the blessings of peace, love, joy, gratitude, generosity, the felt experience of our connection with God, others, and all Creation. We will also receive help, support, healing, and transformation of our individual idiosyncratic issues if we read while grounded in the Holy Spirit, that is to say, reading while keeping ourselves open, vulnerable, flexible, willing to let go of self-concern and live more deeply in God.

If you really spend some serious time reflecting on these readings, you will be greatly blessed as you examine who you are now, what you really believe, how that does and does not matter, and who you want to be as a follower of Jesus Christ. You will receive continual encouragement in every reading and will find practices, tools, and behaviors given to help you find and walk your path toward maturity in Christ.

Many blessings as you read this book that will bring you more light with each reading. Have a happy and holy Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.
Profile Image for Hope.
1,295 reviews90 followers
March 24, 2016
With names like C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey, Madeleine L’Engle and Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the cover, I expected, at the least, that the book would be orthodox. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that most of the writers were extremely liberal in their theology.

William Stringfellow wrote of the “political character of Advent” while John Howard Yoder wrote of Mary’s Magnificat as “a revolutionary battle cry.” Furthermore, the people walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2) are not walking in the darkness of sin, according to Jürgen Moltmann, but are crying out for their human rights. Dorothee Soelle wrote that the sick people in the Gospel of Luke had been made sick by political oppression and economic plunder. Sadly, the book manages to squeeze sin and salvation into the very narrow molds of poverty and justice.

While I enjoyed the entries by John Donne, Brennan Manning and C.S. Lewis, the other chapters were too militant to be encouraging or inspiring.
Profile Image for Molly Moody.
230 reviews2 followers
January 2, 2017
I hated this book with such great passion that I actually threw it in the garbage rather than donate it to The Little Library down the street because I didn't want anyone else to read it. My first dislike came because these were Advent readings & so I think that they really should be easy to read in one sitting. However, several of them were easily 20 plus pages and this was not easy reading.
In fact, that might be the only thing I can say positive about the book- the writings were not commonplace, easy to read, feel good trite. Maybe one reason I hated the book was I wasn't smart enough to read it. But I also think that I strongly objected to the worldview of the majority of authors included and I was frustrated because someone I with whom I do share essential beliefs recommended it. The book didn't not cause me to wait in anticipation for Christ. It caused frustration. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Profile Image for Nathan.
304 reviews9 followers
December 30, 2016
I picked up this book for the list of contributors on the cover -- name after name of men and women whom I highly respect. But this resulting compendium of their work was a disappointment.

The snippets often felt too mystical to have much substance. Not all were this way, of course (Yancey in particular gladly moved in the complete opposite direction), but the overall tone was numinous. More Christmas movie than Christmas story.

Even the writers I looked forward to read as only subpar. I don't know why I expected differently. Edited collections often demean good writing when clipping from original works.

I think the book tried to reach broadly with the breadth of contributors, but it stretched too thin. The result here wasn't more Christmas and more Jesus. It was less.
Profile Image for Jen.
2,396 reviews41 followers
December 31, 2011
While a few bits of this were uneven, (whether it was pace or content) there was sooooo much good in it, I can overlook that. It was hard to not read it in chunks and to only read a bit every day, which is partially why I'm finished 7 days early. Some of the readings were like 10 pages long, so if you're looking for easy quick devotionals this is not it. Eventually, I'll have to go back through it and maybe get books that contain some of the selections that the publishers choose to put in this compilation. I really really loved Henri Nouwen's Waiting Essay, but then again, Henri and I have some sort of special bond ;)
Profile Image for Patty.
2,322 reviews100 followers
January 15, 2010
I have used this devotional book several times since I purchased it. Each time I find new insights, new ways to rejoice in my faith and in G-d's faith in me.

There are writings from all over the Christian map, people I knew and people I met for the first time in this book.

I would recommend this to anyone who is overwhelmed by what our society has done to Advent and Christmas. With this book you can truly prepare for Christ's birth.
Profile Image for Karolin.
2 reviews16 followers
March 7, 2015
An excellent selection of poems and prose from various writers throughout the centuries, all centered around the themes of Advent. There are very short and very long passages, ranging from simple to challenging writing, although it would be fair to say all are challenging to the contemplative soul, as one prepares for the celebration of the first Advent. Re-reading now for the third time. I love this book so much.
Profile Image for Georgia.
583 reviews36 followers
January 12, 2023
This very thoughtful collection of advent readings is one I'll come back to year after year. The editors collected a variety of writers, from poets to theologians, who are unlikely to appear together anywhere else, which is the virtue of these selected writings. I so love the perspectives on Christ, his coming, and what that means for our own perspectives on justice, truth, love, commerce, and everything else.
Profile Image for Abby.
77 reviews7 followers
January 8, 2016
I really enjoyed and benefited from this Advent devotional this year. I love the length of it, spanning from November 24th through January 7th (Epiphany). The readings were varied and helped me see the Christmas story and Advent season with new eyes and refreshed me when the commercial side of the season left me feeling sad. The Bonhoeffer, Lewis, and Yancey essays were three standouts that I loved. I will use this devotional again in the future.
Profile Image for J. Ewbank.
Author 4 books35 followers
May 26, 2015
This book contains readings from world recognized Christian people who have written thrugh the centuries. Most of them are fairly current but not all of them. what a wonderful selection of readings for Advent and Christmas. I enjoyed them.

J. Robert Ewbank author "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the Isms" "Wesley's Wars" and "To Whom It May Concern"
Profile Image for Kayla.
156 reviews2 followers
December 21, 2021
This was a really wonderful Advent book, and I think the first I've read that specifically covers this season. With so many wonderful, poignant, and renowned authors it really helped me to consider Advent in a new way. Advent is not a just a past event but a current reality and a future hope, and it is what brings us light and freedom. This may become a yearly read for me.
Profile Image for Lorna.
136 reviews
January 10, 2011
This is an excellent addition to your Advent season traditions. It was recommended to me by one of my professors at Wheaton and I have been delighted by time I spent reading this devotional this Christmas. I look forward to sharing its joy and wisdom with friends and family in the years to come.
Profile Image for Christina.
379 reviews
January 8, 2014
This is a very good collection of readings for Advent. The selections include poetry, sermons, and various essays. A wide range of writers is included, from John Donne to Sylvia Plath. I like the variety in this book, which is what I expected from this excellent publisher.
Profile Image for Jeff.
431 reviews21 followers
January 5, 2015
This is a very good book of thoughtful Advent and Christmas devotionals authored by a fairly wide range of writers. These devotionals range from 4-10 pages in length. I'll read these again next year. Recommended.
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