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A Book Review of @AnnVoskamp's The Greatest Gift on @KindredGrace

Family gives you context and origin gives you understanding and the family tree of Christ always gives you hope.
(The Greatest Gift p.ix)

First of all, I think you ought to know, The Greatest Gift – a day-by-day advent devotional by Ann Voskamp – is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Seriously!

The words are printed on thick, smooth paper that is charmingly designed in three tones: white, light chocolate brown and pale sky blue. Each blank page is adorned with dancing, fairy-like snowflakes. Each chapter title is decorated with a care and consistency that reminds me of the “illuminated” manuscripts – Bibles, Prayer Books, etc. – of the ancient church. And then there are the gorgeous paper ornaments – one for each devotional of the book – that have been made, photographed and printed at the beginning of every chapter. Oddly, because they are very simple at first glance, they illustrate each story beautifully.

Oh, right, there’s a variation of that word, beautiful, again!

So the book itself is beautiful, but what about the words between the covers? The subtitle of The Greatest Gift is Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, and revealing the love at the heart of the Christmas story is what Mrs. Voskamp does in her Advent devotional. I’ve never read One Thousand Gifts, but I nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed The Greatest Gift, which is gentle and lovely and inspiring all the way through to the end.

There’s a devotional for every day of Advent and one for Christmas Day too. I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of person and topic.  Some of the devotionals feature a story about an ancestor of Christ: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Rahab, Ruth and David. And some of the devotionals feature a story about another person or event before the time of Christ: Creation, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Elijah and the false priests of Baal at Mount Carmel, Jonah and the whale, Esther, the promise of the Messiah and hope to come and finally the arrival of John the Baptist.

All these devotionals are tastefully bookended by an introduction to the concept of the Jesse Tree (Jesus’ earthly family tree and all the characters and stories represented in the tree) at the beginning and the stories of the annunciation, incarnation and birth of Christ at the end.

Every day’s devotional begins with a Bible passage. It’s printed in the book for easy reading and reference and followed by between one and three pages of devotional thoughts. Then there’s an idea for “unwrapping more of His love in the world” followed by a quote about Christmas. Last of all there’s “a moment for reflection” provided by a series of three questions about the devotional and a space for the reader’s thoughts.

The content of the devotionals isn’t theologically complex or profound, but heartfelt and heartlifting, words of blessing which help me celebrate the love of God, to enjoy and savour during Advent and all year round.

Christmas is all about God’s doing whatever it takes to be with us – and us doing whatever it takes to be with Him.
(The Greatest Gift p.236)

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