I’ve read Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, compiled by Nancy Guthrie, many times, but somehow I have never reviewed it. Probably because, like this year, I’ve finished it right in the busiest of the Christmas season, and by the time I had time to go over it, felt it was too far past Christmas to review. But I am not letting that happen this year. 🙂
In Nancy’s preface, she tells of Christmases where all the activities had been accomplished, but her heart wasn’t truly prepared. Then she tried to find a book of Christmas readings, but the ones she found did not minister to her. She wanted to find a “book with short readings on Advent themes from a number of different writers I trust and respect; that reflected a high view of Scripture; and that put the incarnation in the context of God’s unfolding plan of redemption” (p. 10). When she couldn’t find such a book, she set out to create one, reading and editing multitudes of sermons and writings from well-known theologians and Bible teachers.
There are 22 selections on various aspects of Advent, from Mary to conception by the Holy Ghost to Joseph to the shepherds to Jesus’s humility and others, from such teachers and preachers as Charles Spurgeon, Augustine, Martyn Lloyd-Jones to Tim Keller, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, and Ray Ortland. I don’t know all of the authors, so I wouldn’t endorse everyone 100%, but I don’t think I read anything in this particular volume that I had a problem with, at least not that I noted or can recall.
In many ways it is hard to review a book like this, with so many authors and topics. But I’ll share just a few quotes that stood out to me:
Ligon Duncan III on Joseph: “God is calling Joseph to believe his word and to act in accordance with it. And Joseph does just that. He accepts God’s word and he trusts God’s word and he relies upon God’s word and he re-orients his life to conform to that word. What a tremendous act of faith on the part of Joseph and what an example of obedience to God’s word in spite of circumstance” (p. 53).
From “For Your Sakes He Became Poor” by J. I. Packer (originally from Knowing God): “We see now what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor. It meant a laying aside of glory; a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony–spiritual even more than physical–that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they ‘through his poverty might become rich.’ The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity–hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory–because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.
We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.
…The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor — spending and being spent — to enrich their fellow men, giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others — and not just their own friends — in whatever way there seems need (pp. 70-72).
From “Good News of Great Joy” by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.: “God is terrifying to guilty sinners, even though he is in himself gloriously beauitful. But God is pursuing us, even though we avoid him. He himself has taken the initiative to break through our terror” (p. 99).
From the same chapter: “Our good intentions are not strong enough to control our evil impulses. We need a Savior to rescue us from ourselves” (p. 100).
From “The Lessons of the Wise Men” by J. C. Ryle: “Let us beware of resting satisfied with head knowledge. It is an excellent thing when rightly used. But a person may have much of it, and still perish everlastingly. What is the state of our hearts? This is the great question. A little grace is better than many gifts. Gifts alone save no one; but grace leads on to glory” (p. 111).
There are so many others I’d love to share. Packard’s and Ortlund’s chapters impacted me the most this time, I think. There was a lot that was deep and thought-provoking in both, especially Ortlund’s on God’s glory.
Our family doesn’t celebrate Advent liturgically or ceremonially, with different candles on different days and all that, but I do like to, as Nancy wrote at the beginning, spend some time preparing for Christmas with some kind of Advent reading. This book, so far, has been the best book I have found for that. I like that it is 22 essays rather than 24 or 25 or 31: it gives one some leeway to begin early in December but not fall behind if a day or two is missed. Though the chapters are longer than the average devotional booklet, they’re not too long to read in a sitting, and I have found I do better at this stage of life with sustained thought on topics like this rather than “grab and go” devotionals. But most of all I like the richness and the depth. I had used it for several years, laid it aside for a few years, and rejoiced to read it again this year. I’m sure I will read it again many times.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)