Advent Resources 2016

Advent begins this Sunday, but if you’re quick you can get these Advent resources in time. Here are some ways you can mark Advent and prepare thoughtfully for Christmas – including EVERYTHING – Advent Courses, Books, Advent Calendars, Children’s books and Christmas music.

ADVENT E-COURSE: When the Heart Waits – Tara M Owens

A couple of years ago, I was feeling a yearning to sit quietly amidst all the rush of advent glitter and jingly songs. I signed up for an e-course/online retreat run by my dear friend Tara Owens, who is a certified spiritual director. It was an amazing experience: for the first time in years I felt spiritually prepared for the season. Truly, this course was the spiritual highlight of my year.

It has three levels of involvement, depending on your budget. A little pricey, but if you can, DO IT!

Advent Books 


  • Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas – John Blase. I read this last year for Advent, and for me it really did recapture the awe of that first Christmas. It is a retelling of Luke 1-2, by John Blase, poet and blogger, (who has guest-posted here earlier this year). It has 12 sections, each starting with a Bible reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, then telling the story creatively from a particular person’s point of view (e.g. Elizabeth, Mary etc), and ending with a handwritten prayer or reflection. The result is something remarkable, and he really helped me to see afresh a story that can become tired upon repetition, making the characters seem very contemporary. He is such a gifted writer that these short meditations have stayed with me, even a year on, and reading it really did feel like the wonder of Christmas was made more tangible. Get it from 
  • The Meaning is In the Waiting: the Spirit of Advent – Paula Gooder. I love this Advent book. This follows the themes of waiting in Scripture, and is designed as an advent reflection book, suitable for daily devotion, but with more meat than the average devotional. Paula is one of my favourite biblical scholars: intelligent, thoughtful and prayerful. It is a book that I will want to read and re-read. Get it from (UK) 
  • Journey to the Manger – Paula Gooder. This is a book designed for Advent, like a commentary, but with a devotional slant to it. Eight chapters, so it’s better to see it as a book you read over the 4 weeks of Advent (or over the twelve days of Christmas) than a daily devotional. It covers the nativity and Christmas story from lots of different angles, and has Paula Gooder’s trade-mark intelligent, clear, thoughtful analysis – a real joy to read. Get it from,  Wordery (UK) 
  • Waiting on the Word – Malcolm Guite. This is a genius idea – a poem for every day of Advent and Christmas, with Guite’s own commentary. The range of poems is good (Christina Rosetti, Edmund Spenser, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Luci Shaw), and includes a few of his beautiful sonnets. The commentary is as much literary analysis as it is theological reflection, and what I most love about Guite’s commentary is the sense of excitement about poetry coupled with an encouragement to marvel in God more. Highly recommended. Get it from (UK) , 
  • haphazard by starlight – Janet Morley. A wonderful collection of classic poems, some Christian, some not, to lead you through the season of Advent through to Epiphany, with a literary commentary on the poem, and a short question to encourage you to think about how it affects you. This is literary and academic, and more on the liberal-Christian end of things. It is a wonderful collection of poems, and I really appreciated her guided tour – a great way of doing Advent for poetry-lovers. (This is similar to Guite, but slightly more literary/academic and slightly more questioning/downbeat than Guite’s.) Get it from (UK) 
  • adventure – Christmas poems by Mark Greene. A mixture of poems without commentary and very short prose mini-devotions, what makes this stand out is the visual experience. With beautiful images and attractive layout, this is a bite-size treasure for Christmas. Get it from, Wordery (UK),
  • A Widening Light – ed. Luci Shaw. Recommended to me by Addie Zierman and Kelley Nikondeha, I was not disappointed. These poems are beautiful, literary and rich – by some of the best American poets, marvelling at the incarnation. Get it from, Wordery (UK),
  • Christmas Poems – U A Fanthorpe. UA Fanthorpe is one of my favourite current British poets. She started a tradition where she wrote a fresh poem each year and sent it to friends in lieu of a Christmas card – this is the result (complete with quirky drawings that accompanied the poem on the cards). Some of them are funny; some take your breath away. Get it from, Wordery (UK),

Traditional devotions I haven’t read but look good: 


  • Real God in the Real World: Advent and Christmas readings on the Coming of Christ – Trystan Owain Hughes. I haven’t read this book, but I loved the previous book written by him on Compassion (reviewed here) so it is well worth checking out. Get it from £7.99, Wordery (UK) £9.91, $12.23
  • The One True Light – Tim Chester. I haven’t yet read this book. The author is from a roughly conservative evangelical stable, so  if you’re interested in a devotional/sermon-style that works through short verses John’s gospel, with an extract from a hymn or a prayer at the end, this might be for you.  Get it from £4.99, (not available from or Wordery)
  • Come, Lord Jesus – Kris Camealy. A fellow Soul Bare author, Kris always writes well. This is a collection of devotions around the theme of waiting. Get it from,  Wordery (UK) or

Have you read all these books already and want new recommendations? Addie Zierman’s 2016 recommendations look GOOD.



  • Refuge – Anne Booth. This outstanding book is a real treasure, particularly for times such as these. A beautiful picture book telling the nativity story, but with half an eye on the current refugee crisis. £5 from the sale of each book is donated to the War Child charity for refugees (they make no profit). Get it from Wordery (UK) £7.98, $13.12 (Not available from


mary joslin nicholas

  • Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of Santa Claus – Mary Joslin. This tells the possible history behind the legend of St Nicholas – a holy bishop who gave money to poor girls who had no dowry (the book omits to mention that they might have been forced into slavery or prostitution). Bishop Nicholas saw their stockings drying by the fire and dropped gold coins into them. Beautifully illustrated, this is now sadly out of print, but you can still grab it for £0.75 plus P&P if you’re quick, from sellers, or second-hand from


  • The Real Advent Calendar – this may just be in the UK, but I love this chocolate advent calendar that also focuses on the nativity, rather than assorted Disney characters. The Belgian chocolate is Fair Trade and it supports good charities. Buy from for quick delivery, or Tesco, both £3.99.



  • Four Kinds of Christmas – Glen Scrivener asks questions of us all: what’s the real meaning of Christmas? Take the quiz to find out which kind of Christmas you are (I got Santa…) For church leaders –  watch the prize-winning three-minute video, take the quiz, read the accompanying book, this is a one-stop-shop for all your evangelistic resources.
  • Two Nativity Plays – essential for any church leader at Christmas – one by my friend Ros Clarke and one by Miranda comedy writer James Cary.
  • The Vicar’s Wife introduced me to a nice idea for families for Advent, as an advent calendar alternative: The Jesse Tree. 
  • James Cooper has a SERIOUSLY amazing website for all things Christmas (he has all of those advent facts and more). If you need any background on any of the traditions for Christmas, his is the one-stop-shop for it all –


I love listening to Christmas music in all December. (This is a bit of a Thing with me: in December I only listen to Christmas music.) These are some of my favourites:

Traditional Carols: 


  • Merry Christmas – Vienna Boys Choir – If you would like carols, but feel like a European twist, this is an enchanting album. The sound is sweet – which is not to say ‘cute’, but ‘delicious’, and there is a mixture of German and English classic carols. One of my favourites. Get it from or 



  • Christmas with the Tallis Scholars – This is two CDs – the second sounds like traditional Latin monk chanting, and can be useful for meditation or relaxation, the first is a lovely collection of haunting traditional and early carols and motets, sung unaccompanied by a small choir. It is best heard accompanied by a roaring fire, to feel the primal power of those haunting chants and wandering harmonies. I love this period of music, and used to sing in a madrigal choir, so this is special to me. Get it from  or
  • In Terra Pax (City of London Choir) Lovely collection of more unusual Christmas music – British composers mainly from the 20th Century (Holst, Vaughan williams, Rutter) etc. This is a big choir with an orchestra, so it has a rich and full sound, and the soloists were all good. If you like your advent music to have a twinge of discordance, even while the lyrics proclaim the comfort of Christmas, this is the one for you. Get it from or



  • Sweet Bells – Kate Rusby. Kate Rusby is an incredibly talented English folk singer, and this is full of good English cheer and wassailing. Her voice is just captivating, and her arrangements of these traditional folk songs and carols are fabulous. It’s a really cosy album. She has another Christmas album, While Mortals Sleep, which is also excellent, but Sweet Bells is probably the one to get if you just get one. See it on or 
  • Christmas in DiverseCity – Toby Mac – Apparently this dude used to be in DCTalk. I’m not sure how you’d describe this music – electro pop? (I feel old). This has a great, upbeat, contemporary twist on traditional Christmas Carols, and some great collaborations, including Owl City, whilst still feeling worshipful. See it on or 


P.S. for those of you waiting for my Advent/Waiting book, subscribe to my newsletter to find out the latest news…

Over to you: 

  • What do you like to listen to/read in Advent?


11 Responses to Advent Resources 2016

  1. Laurie 10th December, 2016 at 1:53 am #

    It is important to remember the reason for the season. I typically stick to reading the bible and listening to christian based Christmas music. But, I love the recommendations for books, music, and video for the holidays I will have to check them out. Thanks for sharing!

    • Tanya 20th February, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

      You can’t go far wrong with reading the Bible, right?? Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out the resources. Hope you find other things here to bless you

  2. Rebecka 24th November, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    I can never resist a quiz! I got The Stable.
    The other day someone recommended the album Christmas Songs by Penny and Sparrow, I’ve only listened to it a few times and I don’t know how to describe it, but I like it. It’s on Spotify if you want to check it out.

    • Tanya 20th February, 2017 at 4:29 pm #

      You’re so holy to get The Stable 🙂
      And oo yes! I love Penny and Sparrow. didn’t know they had a christmas album

  3. Rebecka 24th November, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

    I can never resist a quiz! I got The Stable.

  4. Phil Steer 24th November, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Thank you for your suggestions, Tanya. Here’s what I read, watch and listen to during Advent and Christmas – which hopefully might be of interest to someone!

    Email: Each Advent since 2013 I have signed up for Brian Draper’s ‘Advent 20’ email series ( The daily reflections and suggested responses (‘Try this!’) help me to journey intentionally through the Advent season, and keep my focus amidst all the busyness. The series is shaped by the replies Brian encourages and receives, and which he shares with those taking part. In this way there is very much a sense of us as an online community, travelling through Advent together. I’m looking forward to this year’s journey.

    Books: For the past couple of years I have appreciated the daily poems and reflections of ‘Haphazard by Starlight’, but this year I am looking forward to Malcolm Guite’s ‘Waiting on the Word’ (both books you mention). If only I had the time and head-space and heart-space for both (and more)!

    Advent calendar: I don’t think there’s been a year when I haven’t had an Advent calendar (and I’m almost 52!) I like a traditional nativity scene (which is what my mum got me when I was a child) ideally with images from the Christmas story hidden behind the windows, and certainly no chocolate!

    DVDs: I aim to watch the BBC mini-series ‘The Nativity’ ( in stages throughout Advent (although, if I remember correctly, I did once end up watching it all at once on Christmas Eve!) Some might argue with the way the tale is told (particularly, perhaps, Joseph’s reaction) but for me it brings the various (sometimes conflicting) strands together in a way that emphasises the reality of it all – even if it didn’t happen exactly the way it’s depicted. (‘Nativity!’, ‘Elf’ and ‘Arthur Christmas’ also feature in our traditional Advent & Christmas, but I don’t think these are quite what you mean!)

    Music: On Christmas Eve I listen to ‘The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ from King’s College, Cambridge, whilst wrapping presents with a Whisky Mac to hand. For traditional carols with a more contemporary twist I enjoy Annie Lennox’s ‘Christmas Cornucopia’ (as does my teenage daughter, but not my wife or sons!) I will also be listening to two CDs by the early music vocal ensemble, Stile Antico – ‘Puer natus est:: Tudor music for Advent and Christmas’ and (recently ordered) ‘A Wondrous Mystery: Renaissance Choral Music for Christmas’ (

    • Tanya 20th February, 2017 at 4:30 pm #

      I love these habits and traditions! Thank you! (Also particularly enjoying the fact you still have an Advent calendar. I love them!

  5. Elizabeth Trotter 24th November, 2016 at 12:43 am #

    I am relatively new to the church year — was only exposed to it in the last few years. I was raised in “Restoration movement” church (strict, almost puritanical Protestantism) and am now part of a charismatic fellowship overseas. So I don’t know much about it all or have a community with whom to delve into it. But, I do like me a little church year 🙂

    Last year I worked through Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s book “The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.” I won it in a give-away but had been wanting to buy it for about a year prior. And for me last year, it held exactly what I needed in each season. I will rave about it forever 🙂 It was good for me especially as one who didn’t know much about the liturgical calendar.

    I knew I wanted to work through something again (I have Ireton’s book handy if I want to re-read any chapter too). So this year I am going to go through Madeleine L’Engle’s “The Irrational Season.”

    I was also exposed to Malcolm Guite’s poetry this fall and knew it was just what I needed. So I splurged and bought his book of sonnets “Sounding the Seasons.” I was going to wait until the church year started over to start reading them, but last week in a difficult moment I picked it up and read his prologue sonnet out loud (that is the only way to read poetry, right?) and immediately burst into tears. I thought, whoa, this is going to be a good year.

    (I have also worked through a specific Lent book the last 2 years — one from Henri Nouwen and one from Richard Rohr.)

    So anyway, long-winded answer to the question: I am going to go through Advent (and the rest of the church year) with Malcolm Guite, whose Advent work you recommended here and whose sonnets I also highly recommend!

    Perhaps when I finish Michael Card’s series on the Gospels (I finished Luke and am now in Mark, which I like even better) I will look into Guite’s “Parable and Paradox.” It looks good too. . . .

    And now I’m off to celebrate American Thanksgiving with my family. <3

    • Tanya 20th February, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

      I loved hearing all of this. For someone who’s grown up in a liturgical tradition (and even in our schools there’s a lot that marks these dates, like Shrove Tuesday, and Easter holidays, and Harvest Festival and Carol Services etc) it’s really interesting to hear from someone for whom that’s foreign. I think there’s a big movement right now to reclaim liturgy etc. I’ve done Michael Card’s commentary on Luke! It’s good. Intending to work through his commentary on Matthew this year….

      You definitely get extra theology points for reading Nouwen AND Rohr (neither of which I have done, which I’m sure means I should be excluded from the communion of the Christian blogosphere…)

      I’m delighted you like Malcolm Guite. I also have a similar response to many of his poems – he writes with such understated grace, but they still pack a punch. I must check out Madeleine L’Engle!


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