Seasonal Book Reviews
Books for Advent and Christmas 2023 and the new lectionary year
We have selected and reviewed some important new titles to mark the seasons of Advent and Christmas together with suggestions for the new lectionary year 2023 – 2024.
In addition, we have an exclusive extract from Knowing You, Jesus – a 365-day devotional which follows Jesus through the gospels.
Click books for more detail:
Resources for the New Lectionary Year: Advent 2023 to Eve of Advent 2024
Book Extract and Author interviews: Knowing You, Jesus
As the new year approaches, we are pleased to provide two extracts from Knowing You, Jesus. Published by BRF Ministries, this is a 365-day devotional volume, ‘following Jesus through the gospels in a year.’ The six authors, Tony Horsfall, Mags Duggan, John Ayrton, Jenny Brow, Melinda Hendry and Steve Aisthorpe have also kindly provided their thoughts on this important new volume, which is rich in spiritual insights into the life and times of Jesus Christ.
Extract 1: Knowing You, Jesus – Day 19: Angel Hosts
Luke 2:13-15 Bethlehem
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
One of my ambitions is to see the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). This celestial phenomenon includes waves of bright, multicoloured lights dancing in the sky. Sky watchers often describe it as like seeing angels.
Angelic activity is prominent in the lead-up to the birth of Jesus but becomes concentrated at the time of the actual birth. The armies of heaven are marshalled to herald his arrival and declare his glory when the earth itself is oblivious to what is taking place.
Angels exist to do God’s will, and to worship him day and night. Something of that immense glory spills into the night sky on the hills outside lowly Bethlehem, treating the lowly shepherds to a heavenly choral performance. It must have taken their breath away, as well as their fear. It is a performance that brings heaven and earth together, glory and peace intermingling.
Such special events do not last forever, though. The shepherds have to decide what to do next in response to what they have seen and heard. Their decision is unanimous – they will go and see the child. This is always the way in spiritual life. God reveals himself and speaks to us, but then we are required to respond – to act in faith and step out in obedience. Only then can we move into the purpose of God for us and receive the blessing he has in store.
Why not use your imagination to enter into this story? Try to picture the glory of this angelic visitation. Imagine yourself there as one of the shepherds or an anonymous bystander. What do you see? What do you hear? How do you feel? How will you respond?
Extract 2: Knowing You, Jesus – Day 176: Rivers of Living Water
John 7:37-39 Jerusalem
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time, the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Each year crowds thronged to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles, remembering God’s deliverance from Egypt and his sustaining provision in the desert (Leviticus 23:33-43). Each day of the festival a special water ceremony recalled how God miraculously provided life-giving water to quench their thirst.
In extending his invitation against the backdrop of this ceremony, Jesus is using the metaphor of physical thirst to speak to our deeper spiritual thirsts and invites us to pay attention to the longings of our soul. The longings we have to be fully known and fully loved, for belonging, purpose, home, healing. In paying attention to our thirsts, we also become aware of all the ways we’ve sought to quench them without ever being fully satisfied.
Jesus alone is the true water for our souls, the one who can quench our soul’s thirst and satisfy our deepest desires. All of our longings are ultimately longings for God, who has made us for relationship with himself. As we come to Jesus, he pours out his life, presence and transforming power in our life through the Holy Spirit.
Today Jesus invites you to come to him with the thirsts of your soul. As you hear this invitation from Jesus, will you come to him and drink? Will you look to him as the one who satisfies your needs and longings?
Lord Jesus, I come to you as the only one who can quench my deepest thirsts. Would you pour out your Spirit in me today, so that streams of living water would flow within me.
Interview with the authors of Knowing You, Jesus
Why did you decide to write Knowing You, Jesus? Is it for experienced Christians or those young in the faith?
The book comes out of a strong desire to help people get to know Jesus more deeply through becoming more familiar with his life. It is not a commentary but a devotional guide with an emphasis on spiritual formation. The inspiration is the famous prayer of Richard of Chichester (1107-1253) in which he asks that he may see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly. This is the worthy aim of every disciple, whether a new believer or someone seasoned in the faith. It is an ambition that each of us as writers is passionate about.
Why did you confine the content to the gospels?
When we read the gospels, we are given a portrait of Jesus in great detail. We can see how he lived, listen to his teaching, watch his interactions with people, and generally get to know him better. It is through this knowing him intimately that we begin to become more like him.
Transformation happens by spiritual osmosis – we absorb his life as we immerse ourselves in it. For this reason, we confined ourselves to the gospel accounts. Most people know some of the stories of Jesus, and certain aspects of his teaching but the unique approach of the book is to help readers to see his life as a whole by integrating the gospel accounts chronologically (as far as it is possible to do).
Our readers often have significant teaching roles within their churches or the wider community. Do you envisage a wider use for the book in, say, sermons and house groups?
The book mainly aims to help people in their personal engagement with the Lord through the Bible so within a small group setting it would perhaps be best used as a way of enabling conversations around people’s walking with the Lord. For example, if a group were using the material individually, they could share how they have known Jesus better in their lives in the days since they were last together. We hope the book might give teachers ideas for application and perhaps a particular way into a gospel passage, but it’s not intended as a study-resource, though we’ve included a good list of books which we found helpful as we were writing.
As a wider point, what can we all do to encourage greater biblical literacy, especially among young people?
Curiously, I think encouraging them to put down their phones, not use an online version or app could be helpful! In the overstimulated cacophony of words, images and competing voices, stopping to read a book, ideally the Bible, or one like ours enables a uniquely different opportunity to engage with Jesus through the Bible. Once you have heard from God in an undistracted place of peace and quiet then your appetite for more of the same begins to grow. Bible literacy is not desirable for its own sake but as a means of meeting the Lord and knowing him better because that is the path to personal transformation and a different world. That’s why we’re all so excited about this project.
Knowing You, Jesus was one of the first books released under the publisher’s new name: BRF Ministries. As the charity enters its second century, it has become the home of an exciting family of ministries that people know and love. The publishing ministry, known as Living Faith, has the longest history, stretching back to 1922, but it now sits alongside Anna Chaplaincy, Messy Church and Parenting for Faith. Each ministry is bold and pioneering, and each is making a unique contribution to people’s lives, while sharing an overriding passion to inspire people of all ages to grow in Christian faith.
We are most grateful to BRF Ministries and to the authors for this feature. Knowing You, Jesus (RRP £19.99; ISBN 9781800391857) is available from www.brfonline.org.uk and all good booksellers.