Friday, November 27, 2015

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Emmanuel is the meaning of Christmas. Emmanuel means God With Us, the title that says it all. This is a beautiful Advent devotional book in its 4th printing. This quote is from the preface by the author "Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation, which is the mystery of God with us in the flesh. When we cut through the sentiment and marketing to the spiritual riches of Christmas , we recover not only a sense of who God is, but also who we are as human beings." I like the format of the book with the unpacking of the scriptures for the four weeks of Advent  followed by Christmas to Epiphany. The history of the feast days by Beth Davis was very informational and I learned a lot about each of the 12 days of Christmas has history and has a specific meaning and purpose. I like the variety of authors from Richard Neuhaus to Kathleen Norris. I did not like that the scripture readings were cited at the beginning of each chapter and not included for convenient reading. I guess I'm just showing laziness, maybe this is made to make the average reader seek out their bible for the readings. Advent is a special time for the church and for me personally. We are an incarnational people where the gift of ourselves is important for the season because of God's gift of himself not just on the cross but by the stable manger. This quote from God with Us "Christmas is about incarnation, and incarnation is God’s becoming what he is not, in order that we might become what he is. Thus does God reveal himself" is a powerful affirmation of our humanity. I would recommend this book to deepen your experience of this spiritual season. From the book is the best recommendation  "As this season of preparation continues, Holy God who is with us, may we lean into every moment of our days to redeem the time, to make the most of our every moment."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soul by Mark Villano

Advent is almost here so it is definitely Time to Get Ready for Advent and ultimately Christmas. There are many Advent devotionals available but I think this one stands out among them. It is steeped in scripture and include many quotes and stories to help the reader get more out of their spiritual life during this time of year. I liked that the readings are included at the beginning of each chapter. There is a description that unpacks the biblical message then a scriptural response. At the end of each chapter there is a summary statement that packs a punch.
We are introduced the idea of chronos and kairos to measure time. Chronos is linear time and Kairos is God's time. But we are not just passively waiting but we are called to action. We are called to bring ourself as gift to others during this season of preparation. When the author speaks "God does not want to fit comfortably into our schedule. God wants to be a living presence in our lives, fire in our hearts." This is evidence of God's call  in our lives to minister to others. First we have to find our true selves "Come to know yourself better and you will be able to know others better as well. Be happy with who you are and who you aren’t. You will see more clearly the One who gave you your true self."
From the beginning of advent to the epiphany, Time to Get ready will keep you engaged. For instance with quotes like this "An epiphany is defined as a manifestation of Christ. Franciscan author Richard Rohr, in Everything Belongs, gives his own twist to that definition: an epiphany is a place where God is both hidden and revealed. Perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed — like the manger or the cross. Not everyone is looking for those epiphanies, not everyone sees. But those who do will “ gather together.” Their journeys converge in Bethlehem. Their hearts “thrill and rejoice.”
I would recommend this book to you for inspiration during your Advent and Christmas season. The format is easy to follow. The author's voice is conversational and punctuated with scripture throughout the book. Time to Get Ready will help you make the most of your waiting for the Incarnation when God is with us in history, mystery and majesty.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

This is the 25th anniversary of The Ragamuffin Gospel written by a former Franciscan priest. It is a beautiful exposition on God's grace. It is to the point and in your face in a good way. It wakes you up to the reality of God's love for you. Definitely a "come as you are" love freely given and not earned or deserved is at the core of the book's message. The Ragamuffin Gospel was very controversial when it was originally written in 1990 because it was not about a restrictive love based on sin and judgement. The author left the priesthood to get married and he is not shy in laying out his own faults of alcoholism for instance. The back cover says it nicely that we don't need spiritual cosmetics to make ourselves presentable to God. Ultimately that God IS Love is spelled out chapter after chapter in addition to the whimsical titles of each chapter.
One of my favorite quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel is "Counterfeit Grace is as commonplace as fake furs, phony antiques, paste jewelry and sawdust hot dogs. The temptation of the age is to look good without being good.....The dichotomy between what we say and what we do is so pervasive in the church and in society that we actually come to believe our illusions and rationalizations and clutch them to our hearts like favorite teddy bears." I think this book is about "keeping it real" and being genuine even as we evangelize in sincerity to others. "To evangelize a person is to say to him or her , 'You are loved by God in the Lord Jesus'. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it."
The author, Mr Manning, has written more that 20 books, and was a gifted speaker. He was a Korean war veteran and as I mentioned before a Franciscan priest. His final book was his memoir titled All is Grace. He died in 2013. There is a preface and afterward in this book written by people who knew that author personally that is specific to this 25th anniversary special edition. This helps the readers get to know the man and the author better.
I would definitely recommend this book to you. You will not be disappointed. There are multiple examples and quotes in each chapter. The voice of the author is highly relatable. The reader will discover that we are all Ragamuffins and that we are all loveable. What better message could there be and what more could you want from a book. Love and spirituality are central to the book as perhaps they should be in our own lives.