So everyone is gearing up for Christmas and it is not even Advent yet. Meanwhile, back at the Vicarage, I am having my almost-traditional gripe about losing sight of preparing for Jesus’ arrival amidst the cakes, carols and tinsel which have already appeared.

I won’t, Cnute-like, attempt to roll back the tide. I will go to the various lunches and carol singing events – the first of which is in about a week’s time. But I will do my best to keep Advent in my morning prayer time. I have looked at several possible books with readings and reflections. While I have finally settled on one of them, I will briefly mention them to you in case you wish to consider using one of them yourself. That is also why I am mentioning them here a week before Advent starts to give you a chance of obtaining a copy should you wish.

“Advent and Christmas. Wisdom from St Francis of Assisi”

This is one of the few to acknowledge that Advent does not always start on the 1st of December (another gripe of mine about Advent calendars too). It sets out daily readings and prayers for each day of Advent through to the twelfth day of Christmas. There are just a couple of pages for each day so it is relatively short – useful if you are time pressured but I would expect to spend some time just thinking about what I’ve read. There is a quote from St Francis and a related passage of Scripture, a prayer and a suggested action to do as well.

“Haphazard by starlight. A poem a day from Advent to Epiphany”

I think I liked the idea of Janet Morley’s book before taking a closer look at it. The choices and commentary are entirely the author’s and I suspect that I would have chosen other poems. The selection is drawn largely from 19th and 20th century British and American poets. There is no Betjeman here but there is T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin and Rowan Williams.

“Real God in a Real World. Advent and Christmas readings on the coming of Christ”

This is another series of daily readings. Each day has a passage of scripture, commentary and a reflection – food for thought. The days are grouped into six themed sections. The readings complement those you might have expected. For example, on Christmas day we hear from the prophet Isaiah while on 6th January we read about worry and peace – not about the Epiphany or the three gifts of the Wise men.

“Living with Hope. A scientist looks at Advent, Christmas and Epiphany”

Like others, this book is designed for individual daily reading but may lend itself to small group discussion. I think that this will be my preferred choice. In part because, many years ago, I studied chemical sciences to degree level and there is some bit of me which is still a scientist as well as theologian. So a book by a Revd Professor has its appeal because John Polkinghorn’s competence is in Mathematics, Physics and Theology. For me there are two other advantages. Firstly, it fits the liturgical calendar I am used to using (Anglicans and Catholics among others will be familiar with it). Secondly, the topics include the great Advent themes of Death, Judgement, Heaven and  Hell as well as those of the Sunday lectionary including John the Baptist and Mary. To put it another way: Advent in this book looks and feels like Advent rather than “Christmas lite”, which it might have been. I do not yet know whether I shall continue to use this book into the Christmas season itself.

For the record, we are basing our Advent course/weekly Advent talks on the “Real God in a Real World” book at Church and I intend to use the “Living with Hope” during my daily quiet time.