Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent Daily Readings

For the last two years, during Advent we've read daily from The Jesse Tree, a beautifully illustrated book that follows a traditional sequence of daily Jesse Tree readings from the Old Testament.  The frame story used in this version by Geraldine McCaughrean involves a curmudgeonly man carving Jesse Tree figures in a church and a little boy who asks constant questions about the figures.  In response, the carver tells each Bible story, explaining why it is included on the tree.  We enjoyed these daily Advent readings and will read them again.

This year we're reading from The Christmas Mystery as a change.  This book also has one chapter to be read each day, but the chapters are significantly longer than those in The Jesse Tree.  The Christmas Mystery does tell the story of the nativity, but not directly.  The frame story hinges on an unusual Advent calendar, the story the calendar tells, and what that story means for the "real" world.  The calendar's story takes the frame story's characters on a delightful run in their imagination through geography and history, focusing on the history of the Christian church. In the end, though, the author abandons the magical tale, substituting an unbelievable and mundane explanation driven by the author's political biases. The failure of Jostein Gaarder, the author, to weave the threads of the story into a satisfying conclusion left me disappointed

If you skip over the forced realism in the ending (simply omit that section of the last chapter), the magic of the story will still delight. Parents should be aware that for several chapters the young protagonist hides the mystery (including a visit to their home from a strange man) from his parents through deception and outright lies, until the parents discover the secret. The parents are blamed for their something but the boy is never chastised for his lying. Also, in a couple of places some dubious theology is expounded.  These flaws will keep this from being a regular Advent reading in our home, but with judicious editing as we read we'll enjoy it this year.

Since The Christmast Mystery doesn't include the Jesse tree component, each morning we're also reading a traditional Jesse Tree story  from The Advent Jesse Tree.  We're not making the ornaments or doing anything extra with this--just reading the scripture and bits of the devotional reading from the book.