‘Twas the Season of Advent by Glenys Nellist

Cover illustration by Elena Selivanova

Glenys Nellist recounts the timeless story of the Incarnation–God coming into the world as Jesus, born of Mary–through a gentle retelling of scripture from the Old and New Testaments over twenty-five days in her newest book, Twas the Season of Advent. Beautifully and sensitively illustrated by Elena Selivanova, the stories, which begin with a rhyme following the style of the beloved Christmas poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and include the scripture citation, are meant to be read one each day from December 1 through Christmas Day. Each ends with a simple prayer. A downloadable activity pack is available to help families deepen and further the conversation. A wonderful addition to the rich treasury of Advent and Christmas stories, ‘Twas the Season of Advent may become a new tradition to add to your holiday devotions or bedtime ritual.

Remembering September 11

Photo: Tim Martin


What I remember most vividly about that day was the color of the sky—a deep, clear blue that we remarked on to strangers in awe and wonder, minutes earlier. I was on a crosstown bus transporting a heavy bag of books to my new office at Church of the Heavenly Rest on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where I had recently joined the staff as Director of Religious Education. Just before my stop, the bus driver’s radio alerted us to the fact that there’d been an accident in lower Manhattan and all buses were being diverted and would not be allowed below 14th Street.

Tuesdays are staff meeting days in many churches, and at Heavenly Rest we began at 9 a.m. with Morning Prayer and the news that a plane had hit one of the twin towers. When someone rushed in to tell us of the second plane, we realized that this was vastly different from the sad but understandable accident we could imagine involving a small passenger plane. The sexton immediately went and got the Paschal candle, lit it, and placed it in the center of the chancel, where it stayed lit for months. Immediately we began planning a worship service for that evening. Whenever the phones rang—and service was sporadic that day—it was someone asking how they could help.

Around lunchtime, I went out with the communications director and put up flyers announcing the service in shop windows and on pillars and posts. As we did so, we noticed people in twos and threes—almost never alone—coated from head to toe in white dust, slowly and silently streaming up Fifth Avenue. At 5 pm, the church was filled with people from all over the neighborhood, whether or not they had any connection to Heavenly Rest, whether or not they identified as Christian. Communion was offered to every single person who was present. In the days and weeks that followed, I held fast to the words of Psalm 46 that was chosen for worship:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;
Though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be overthrown;
God shall help her at the break of day.
The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,
what awesome things he has done on earth.
It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.


The Gospel that was appointed for Sunday, September 16, 2001 was Luke 15:1–10: God searches for all the lost ones, finds us, and brings us home, rejoicing.

For no reason other than I felt drawn, I went back to church after lunch. As I came through the front door and my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I could see two people sitting in the front pew of the otherwise empty sanctuary: a woman and a young girl. I grabbed a few blank index cards and a fistful of crayons from a basket, walked over, and knelt beside them. Softly, I introduced myself and handed the child the crayons and index cards.

“This is Annie, and I’m her aunt,” the woman told me. “Annie’s father died on Tuesday, and she is wondering who is keeping her safe now.”

I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and began.

“Well, Annie, your mother and your aunts and uncles are keeping you safe. So are the firefighters, and the police officers, the mayor and the president.” I paused and pointed to the Paschal candle in front of us. “Do you see this candle? We sometimes call it the Christ candle, and it’s there to remind us that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. Jesus is here with us, and we are safe in God’s love.”

I don’t remember if I said anything else. What I will never forget is that Annie drew three pictures. The first was of the paschal candle, the second was of the dark church with jewel-bright stained-glass windows, and the third was the sun blazing in the sky. Annie knew. I simply reminded her.

       The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:5


St. Paul’s Chapel, the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City, stands opposite the site of the World Trade Center. It is the city’s only remaining Colonial-era church and by something like a miracle, it was completely undamaged on September 11, save for a one hundred-year-old sycamore tree that was uprooted in the churchyard. A survivor, too, of the Great Fire of 1776, George Washington prayed there on his inauguration day. And from October 2001 through May of 2002, St. Paul’s was a place of refuge and rest for the recovery workers. It was staffed around the clock with hundreds of volunteers, some with specialties like massage therapy and podiatry, and others who served hot meals, made up beds in pews, played the piano, prayed with the firefighters, police officers, and construction workers, and listened to their stories.

The October night I was there as a volunteer, two men arrived from South Carolina in a U-Haul truck carrying 3000 pairs of steel-toed boots. The fires were still so hot that the soles of the men’s boots were continually melting.  At midnight I went out to the smoldering pile with a few others, carrying a basket with bottles of cold water, packets of tissues, eye drops, and pewter angel tokens that had been the gift of a parishioner at the church where I was then working. The angel tokens were all the firefighters wanted. “Thank you,” they whispered over and over. Imagine.  They were thanking us.

When I got home, I found that the red tennis shoes I was wearing were entirely coated with fine white dust. They could not be cleaned. I could not throw them away, nor could I wear them again.  I think of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush:

Remove the sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

Exodus 3:5

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Laura Alary’s Breathe, Look! and Make Room: Guides through the church year

I am so lucky to have made a friend of Laura Alary, a gifted theologian, author, and educator. Laura’s newest book, Breathe: A Child’s Guide to to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time is the most recent addition to her series of lovely liturgical guides which include Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas and Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter.

Each of these books takes us through a season or two of the church year, with vibrant and colorful scenes from scripture, nature, and a child’s daily life. Mystery, wonder, and celebrations large and small are woven throughout. The connections between church and home, scripture and our own stories are beautifully made, and you’ll find simple, meaningful ideas and practices to try.

In the Godly Play story, The Circle of the Church Year, we are reminded

It is all here. Everything we need. For every beginning there is an ending, and for every ending there is a beginning. It goes on and on. Forever and ever.

Jerome Berryman

Wherever we find ourselves in the circle, we have companions on the way who help us follow Jesus. Laura Alary and her guides are wonderful companions.

Laura has many other books you’ll want to add to your library. Learn more about her and them here.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

The Great Vigil of Easter at home

Photo by Anuja Mary Tilj on Unsplash

The Great Vigil of Easter was made for pillow forts. No, really. I am utterly convinced that this, the holiest night of the year, the jewel of our liturgical celebrations, is perfect for home, in pajamas, under two chairs covered by a blanket. We begin in darkness.

It would be wonderful if someone kindled an impressive new fire outside. If you are participating as a church, show this on camera and please light the Paschal Candle from it. If you are doing this as a household and have a fire pit or fireplace, by all means, make a blaze safely. A fat candle in a glass jar will also be lovely. This is the prayer:

Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.

Let us pray.

O God, through your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Next comes the Exsultet, the ancient Easter proclamation dating from the 4th century. It is usually chanted. You could listen to this beautiful rendition, which includes praise to the bees from whose wax the Paschal candle was made, or read the first three verses aloud:

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.

Now it’s time for the stories, the record of God’s saving deeds through history. Tell them as if you are around a campfire in the desert. Hold a flashlight under your chin.

You don’t need to use all the stories. Actually, please don’t use them all. I recommend Creation, Exodus, Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, and Zephaniah 3:14-20. If you are doing this over Zoom, let households choose the story the want to tell. Perhaps they’ll use poetry, music, drama, a picture book, various translations, a children’s Bible. Invite people illustrate the stories in advance (or maybe create a scene using LEGO bricks and snap a photo?) so you can share them with everyone.

If you are doing this with just your own family, I suggest James Weldon Johnson’s poem Creation, found here, or Phyllis Root’s charming picture book, Big Momma Makes the World. Exodus 14:10-31 is always read; I like Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message. At the line, “The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit” invite the listeners to slap their thighs, making a thundering sound of the Egyptians in pursuit, which should end abruptly at the line, “the sea returned to its place as before.”

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones is next. I have found children love to be the bones. Remind them that bones lie very still! At the rattling (a maraca?), they roll on the floor. At the sound of God’s breath, they stand, and maybe dance? I suggest that the final reading before the Gospel be this, from the prophet Zephaniah, describing what it will be like when the Messiah comes.

It’s almost time. Have bells for ringing and pots and pans for banging at the ready, and someone will want to fling on all the lights. You’re all going to shout the Easter acclamation, three times:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

The Easter Gospel is read. Even though Matthew is traditional, I am partial to John.

End with a rousing song of joy. We love Now the Green Blade Riseth, and you can sing along. Dessert, too, would be great. If you made a fire, how about s’mores? If not, these delicious s’mores bars have just 4 ingredients.

Alleluia! Alleluia! We sing this night,
joining heaven and earth that rejoice with delight.
Jesus, our Lord, is risen today.
God’s love and light is here to stay.
Joining heaven and earth that rejoice with delight,
Alleluia! Alleluia! We sing this night. Amen.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J. S. Seamans

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

*All the Holy Week and Easter at Home posts are gathered here*

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents

It’s been a year

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

And what a year it’s been. I am grateful to be sharing with you the words and wisdom of others.

This brief essay, Hello, Gorgeous gave me a big boost today. Read the whole lovely thing, but this is the most important part:

For the past year productivity has not been the thing. Efficiency has not been the thing. Endurance, stamina, and resilience have been the things. Hope has been a thing. Doing the right thing has been a thing. Ultimately, though, this isn’t about what you did. It’s about who you are. You are still here and that is worth celebrating. You, Gorgeous, are beloved of God. You are worth celebrating.

Anne Warner

Illustrated Ministry, which has created so much good stuff especially this year, has free prayers and coloring sheets of them here.

My friend Jane Gober, an Episcopal priest, inspired by Padraig O’Tuama‘s Morning Prayer in Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, crowdsourced this Litany for One Year of Pandemic:

We begin this day
Looking back over one year
Of the deafening flood of this pandemic.
We begin this day
With trust.
Feeling that we are beloved and held by your Presence.
We begin this day
With hope.
Knowing that each day can share
Love, courage, forgiveness and reconciliation.
We recall the last year heavy with loss.
For the confidence that has been stripped away.
For the shock of emptiness and anxiety and unimagined fears.
For the flickers of guilt and kindled regret of all that was left undone.
For the strangeness of struggling to understand and struggling to breathe.
For the overwhelmed-ness of households that are not okay.
For the tolling bells and enumerated candles that barely define the countless heartbreak.
One year of together apart.
May we learn, may we love, may we carry on.
God is with us.
We recall the last year offering thanks and praise
For the chance to focus on what matters to God.
For creativity to meet the challenges,
For the technology that keeps us connected,
and the science that is leading us forward.
For the companion animals who have brought us newness.
For the strength to hold onto blessings and the wisdom
to let go of what no longer gives life.
For the reminder that to be the church is not to be a club or a building,
Instead, a commitment of practice to embody Christ wherever we are.
One year of together apart.
May we learn, may we love, may we carry on.
God is with us.
May we find the wisdom we need in the days of the pandemic that are in front of us.
God is with us.
May we hear the needs of those around us.
Christ is with us.
May we love the life that we are given.
The Spirit is with us. Amen.

Traci Smith wrote a simple prayer that’s great for all ages:

God you are with us all the time. All the time you are with us.

Today we remember. We remember how things used to be. We remember how many things we have gone through. We remember things we missed and people we lost.

Today we hope. We hope for healing. We hope for vaccines. We hope for wisdom.

Today we share. We share smiles with one another. We share our joys and our sorrows. We share our dreams for the future.

God you are with us, all the time. All the time, you are with us. Be with us as we remember, hope, and share. Amen.

Traci Smith

That’s what I have for you, dear ones–prayers and a reminder that you are beloved and not alone. May that be enough right now.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Palm Sunday at Home

Photo by Mary Delnore Dye

Palm Sunday is one of my favorite days of the year. It marks the beginning of Holy Week, when we tell in story and song and pageantry of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem the week before he died and rose again. All four gospels recount that he came into the city not astride a great white stallion as would befit a king, but on a humble donkey, and thousands hailed him, laying down their cloaks and palm branches on the path before him, singing “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

One Lent my friend Hershey and I thought it would be fun if we could find a donkey to lead the Palm Sunday procession for five blocks along Broadway in lower Manhattan, from St. Paul’s Chapel to Trinity Church. Can’t you just see the stunned tourists and charmed children? We never actually thought our boss would agree, but he did, and each year thereafter, it was my job to wrangle the donkey. Just finding one was a challenge, for as Rob in Yonkers once pointed out to me, “Palm Sunday is like New Year’s Eve for donkeys.” So that’s something you don’t need to worry about at home.

You also don’t need to worry about palms. As my friend Bruce Jenneker explains in this short video, “All over the world people have chosen to use the branches that are common to them.” You could decorate your door with palms or any leafy branch, because one of the most touching things about Palm Sunday is the element of public witness, of welcoming the King of Kings. Illustrated Ministry even has a free downloadable palm branch to print and color, as in the photo above from a family participating in online worship at my church in 2020. Wherever we are, we enter into the story, we connect to it, to Jesus, to our communities of faith, to one another.

We could take time, and not even a long time, with the scriptures each day during Holy Week, using a technique from Ignatian spirituality called Imaginative Prayer. What I love about this is that it works well with people of all ages, and could be done at home or with others on Zoom. It’s best when one person reads the Gospel aloud. I suggest using the Common English Bible. The readings for all of Holy Week can be found here. As you listen, put yourself in the story, or imagine that you are one of the people in the story. Think about where you are, how you feel. Read the story again. Name, or draw, or write down what you smell, taste, touch, see, and hear, giving at least one detail in each category. Remember that in scripture, we find ourselves–at the gates of Jerusalem, in the Temple courts, having supper in the Upper Room, falling asleep in the garden, hearing the cock crow three times, trembling at the foot of the cross, wondering at the empty tomb.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

*All the Holy Week and Easter at Home posts are gathered here*

Family resources for becoming anti-racist

Photo by Kelly Lacy via Pexels

Because, white friends, this is our work to do, here is a collection of my blogposts meant to provide parents and faith formation leaders with resources to begin or continue the work of becoming anti-racist. I am a curator of resources rather than a creator of resources, and if you have found others you recommend, please do let me know. It’s a short list. I will add more as I write them.

Juneteenth and how to be an ally

Black History Month is for everyone

John Lewis walks with our children

A short family guide to supporting racial justice now

Grief in a time of injustice and COVID-19

Talking with our children about race

Martin Luther King, Jr.

And just because I feel I need to hear this daily right now, here is poet and prophet Amanda Gorman on January 20, 2021:

Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time,

then victory won’t lie in the blade.

But in all the bridges we’ve made,

that is the promise to glade,

the hill we climb.

From ” The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Black History Month is for everyone

Hey, friends! February is Black History Month, and it’s for all of us to celebrate! Yes, it would be great if if such a thing weren’t necessary because Black history is American history, but it is necessary now and so I particularly want to encourage white families to learn and do more. There are lots of great resources at history.com, and I found this article helpful as an overview with some great suggestions and links to confront racism and support Black communities.

If you have little ones, please read Miriam Willard McKenney’s excellent post at Building Faith, Picture Books for Anti-Racists, which includes a link to the “comprehensive, living list of picture books on a variety of themes related to African-Americans, diversity, and Becoming Beloved community” that she created–a treasure that will enrich your family for years to come.

The National Museum of African-American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, is closed to the public at the moment but you can explore their amazing collection virtually, visit the Talking About Race Web Portal, or take in this cool exhibit on sports.

How can you engage locally? Order in from Black-owned restaurants, shop at Black-owned businesses, which have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. I’m doing my shopping online these days, and Etsy has me covered with a list of Black-owned shops. You can also make a donation to a Black-led organization–you’ll find many here. I’m going to make a donation to Children’s Defense Fund in honor of Marian Wright Edelman, Mrs. Edelman to me, because it was “founded, powered, and inspired by the legacy of Black heroes” and Mrs. Edelman is one of mine.

You can celebrate with entertainment: Parade Magazine has a list of “35 Inspiring, Joyful and Moving Movies” from various streaming services to watch, and Black History Month has also inspired February’s Tiny Desk Concert series at NPR with “different genres and generations” each week. If you’re at a loss, I’m betting your tweens and teens can tell you which Black artists to highlight for a family dance party.

A couple of years ago, my son Peter gave me this fantastic book of short stories by N.K. Jemisin, How Long ’til Black Future Month? I commend to you both the book and the question. Let’s join the essential work to ensure the answer is now.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Christmas very much at home

Perhaps you had other plans for the holidays this year. I certainly did–for the first time since my son’s first Christmas, I had hoped we’d spend Christmas in California visiting my mother, since I am no longer in parish ministry, with all the attendant seasonal responsibilities. However, my husband, our 17-year-old and I are in Brooklyn, in our tiny apartment (“It’s so cozy!” my Texas nephew, then 9, exclaimed on his first visit). It’s possible that we are getting on each other’s nerves a bit after 9 months at home.

How will we get in the spirit?

Some days I make a simmer pot to make the whole house smell Christmassy, with whatever I’ve got on hand: cranberries, orange halves or even orange peels, apple cores, fresh rosemary sprigs or pine trimmings, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves and star anise, or a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice. Toss these things into a large pot, fill with water, and simmer all day long.

My husband gave me an early gift of comfortable ear buds so that I can listen to my favorite carols whenever I like without annoying him or distracting our high school senior. On December 24th, we will listen, with millions of others around the globe, to the annual radio broadcast of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge. This beloved tradition dates to 1918, and what a winter that must have been. The bidding prayer is always poignant, and the words “Let us remember before God all those who rejoice
with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light” will hold a deeper resonance this year.

I will also at some point watch my favorite Christmas Eve service ever, the 2016 Family Eucharist and Giant Puppet Nativity Parade at Trinity Church Wall Street, and you can, too. Being able to commission these puppets, designed and built by the very talented Lavinia Roberts and Cecilia Roberts, was such a privilege for me, and the entire service is a delight, with beautiful music from the Trinity Youth Chorus and a sweet homily by Hershey Mallette Stephens. If you just want to see the giant puppets and hear me narrate the Christmas story as told by Jerome Berryman in A Children’s Liturgy for Christmas Eve, that happens around the 10 minute 40 second mark. Trinity is a progressive, inclusive Episcopal church in the heart of lower Manhattan with a diverse congregation, a strong commitment to social justice, and a rich history. It’s also famous for being the hiding place of National Treasure as well as the burial places of Alexander Hamilton and Peter Parker in Into the Spider-Verse. When all this is over, come visit and I will happily give you a tour.

Cooking and eating seem to be what we mostly do for fun right now, and to show our love and care for one another. I’m baking and filling treat bags to share with friends and neighbors: snowflake-stamped cookies, honeycomb, chocolate cookies dipped in crunchy pearl sugar. While my husband will make a delicious dinner for Christmas Eve, I am responsible for and excited about brunch and a late afternoon tea on Christmas Day. Clearly, we are going to need to take plenty of walks. Walks are another way to feel connected–to each other, to our fellow humans, to nature, to God. We are lucky to live close to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and one day between Christmas and New Year’s we’ve lined up a Zipcar so we can go further afield, to see the city “dressed in holiday style”, or take a drive to the countryside to walk in the snow. For our family, neighborhood evening walks also work well. Tonight we are excited to see the “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn that will be visible shortly after sunset, which may be the “star of wonder” that inspired the journey of the magi so long ago.

Right now I am profoundly grateful for the technology that will allow us to visit our loved ones and interact with our church community from a safe distance. I’m looking forward to a scavenger hunt over Zoom with my niece and nephew, video chats with my parents, Zoom Lessons and Carols (yes! another one!) and a Christmas movie watch party, assuming we can reach consensus on a Christmas movie. I’m thinking the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas might be just the ticket. Still, I am hoping Ella Fitzgerald had it right:

Next year all our troubles will be

Miles away

Once again as in olden days

Happy golden days of yore

Faithful friends who are dear to us

Will be near to us once more

Someday soon, we all will be together

If the Fates allow

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, by Hugh Martin, Ralph Blane

Whatever happens, Christmas will come just the same, needing no ribbons or wrappings, nothing shiny or bright, just our hearts preparing room for God-with-us. Wishing you peace and a measure of joy, lovies…

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas giftperhaps this year in particular.

Advent at home

Photo by Gabby K from Pexels

Here’s what I want for us, lovies: let’s be gentle with ourselves and others. Let’s take joy where we find it. It’s okay to feel sad and out-of-sorts. Do what you need to do. Listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Have some cookies with that coffee. Put up the tree early, or on December 24th. Please remember: Jesus is coming, is with us now, and will be with us again. We can’t screw that up, no matter what.

If you are looking for some inspiration for the holidays, I am glad to share what I’ve found. Traci Smith’s new book, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred is brimming over with wonderful, simple ideas, and here’s the best part: you are not supposed to try them all. I promise. Traci suggests choosing three. I’m definitely trying the Hot Chocolate Gratitude Party next weekend, which if my family gets through the college application process intact, we’ll certainly need. We are also looking forward to the Silent Night Star Walk, which might be Christmas Eve or Christmas Night. I am especially thankful for the chapter on Difficult Moments, because even without a worldwide pandemic, these are an inevitable part of our holiday experience, and being able to acknowledge them helps us accept them and honor what they teach us.

You may know from my earlier Advent post that reading one seasonal picture book each night leading up to Christmas Eve is a tradition beloved from Peter’s childhood. Matthew Paul Turner has a new picture book with illustrations by Gillian Gamble, All the Colors of Christmas, with not only the bright familiar red and green, but gold and blue and white and brown–yes, brown: “It’s God within a baby’s skin.” The final color is “…You! It’s your own unique hue.” I love this part best, when Matthew reminds us that through our being and doing, we are “part of the story, the joy and the glory.”

Another sweet picture book is Little Mole’s Christmas Gift, by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland, a charming companion to the spring-themed Little Mole Finds Hope. This book, without any religious language at all, carries a message of kindness and generosity that speaks to the heart.

My devotional recommendation for adults and youth is Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers by Claire Brown and Michael McRay with daily reflections from a wonderfully diverse (in every sense of the word) group of contributors. Each reflection is accompanied by a scripture verse, a prayer and a practice. One of the prayers seems just right for me, and perhaps for you, in this time.

God of the unfolding story, draw us into friendship with our Divine Discontent as a gift of your Spirit. Give us the strength to keep longing for your Kingdom Come, to keep returning to our communities and our peacemaking in gratitude for your guidance toward the world you imagine for your creation. Amen.

Claire Brown, Keep Watch with Me, p. 95

In the practice that follows this prayer, Claire speaks of “the gap between the present moment and the holy imagination” and invites us to “sit with whatever comes.” That I can do. That I will do. With some carols on in the background and my messy life and apartment in the foreground, holding on to the promise and the reality of God-with-us.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents, which makes a swell Christmas gift, perhaps this year in particular.