1Sent“Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas” by Jorge Acevedo with Jacob Armstrong, Rachel Billups, Justin LaRosa, & Lanecia Rouse. Published 2015 by Abingdon Press

I want to start off by saying that I think it’s REALLY HARD to do an Advent Book well. For us Christians who have grown up with the Advent wreath and nightly devotions, we’ve heard it all. Then after we heard it all we heard it again. I mean there’s only so many truly Christian themes for Christmas and every pastor that preaches on them or every writer that decides to tackle the subject has to try to find a new way to come at these stories. It doesn’t always work, in fact, I think it rarely works.

It’s even harder to write an Advent book that is going to keep me interested and engaged.  My job keeps me hopping more at Christmas than any other time of year, and I just don’t have as much time as I would like for sitting and pondering the mysteries and themes of the season. (Maybe I should make time, but that’s another story.) This makes me sometimes a bit jaded when it comes to reading Christmas stories and Advent books.

So if this sounds more negative than it should, it’s probably on me, not the authors.

Methodist pastor Jorge Acevedo has teamed up with four other writers for this book “Sent: Delivering the Gift of Hope at Christmas.” Each of the four writers takes one week of Advent and writes about it through the lens of a story from their life. There’s one about Waffle House, one about an intellectually disabled person ministering to the homeless, one about a child being born in dangerous shape during Christmas, and one about….a Christmas tree skirt. Then Pastor Acevedo sums it all up with a short fifth chapter at the end.

We used the main book for our Advent study for the Adult Sunday School class at our church. There is a DVD that you get to accompany it (though it’s kind of lame, it’s just the authors discussing it) and another book containing devotions for each day during Advent set to go with the theme of the week.  My family tried this out, but we didn’t even make it through all four weeks.

It’s written well enough, and for the most part the authors make their points, but to me they just really don’t say anything NEW, and that’s so hard to do with Advent. Only 2 of the 4 stories really resonated with me: Jacob Armstrong’s story about Waffle House leading to an appreciation for the fact that third shift workers of humble means being the first to see Jesus, and Justin LaRosa’s story about his wife giving birth to a son who almost didn’t survive during the Christmas season.  The other two were…meh. The story about a disabled person seeing Jesus in the homeless is nice, and makes a good point, it just didn’t hit home with me.  The one about the Christmas tree skirt…well I finished it a week ago and I still haven’t figured it out yet.  It didn’t connect with me at all.

All of the authors were very skillful and I’m sure they’re wonderful preachers and leaders, but for the most part the book just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it’s just that I prefer a more traditional Advent study based on love, peace, joy, and hope, I don’t know.  For the most part with “Sent” I felt like I got the author’s point in the first few sentences then wondered why I had to read the rest of the chapter. (Except for the Christmas Tree skirt story. Like I said, I never did figure that one out.)

Come to think of it, I did have an issue with the first story as well. Jacob Armstrong is writing about Jesus coming to humble, working class folks like shepherds or night shift workers at Waffle House. Then later in the chapter he talks about how several people from his congregation wrote substantial checks (some for 10,000 dollars) to help build a well and water system for a town in Nicaragua. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact that’s awesome, but to go from talking about a night shift waitress at Waffle House to talking about people in your church that can just write $10,000 dollar checks willy-nilly seemed like a bit of a disconnect to me. Plus, it’s great that we help out people in other countries, but I was left wondering if those same people in the congregation that write huge checks on the spot for people in a far away land end up voting against things that would help poor people and “third shift” workers here at home.  Again, it’s just a disconnect for me.

But it’s also entirely possible that I’m just being too cynical and judgmental about it, so there’s that.

All in all the book might be good for folks who have never done an Advent study or for a Sunday School or small group that hasn’t been meeting together for long.  Our Sunday School often kind of ended up without much to talk about by the end of the class, but the fact that our pastor also used the book to organize his Advent sermons didn’t help either.

I’d say “Sent” is probably in the middle of the pack as far as Advent books and studies go.  It’s not bad, but if you’re looking for a similar kind of study from the Methodist/Wesleyan perspective I’d recommend “Under Wraps,” published by Abingdon in 2014, before I’d recommend this one.