- The storybook is bigger and longer than ever!
- The mini-book isn’t so mini this year! It’s a full 32 pages and 15cm square, so bigger and longer than ever before!
- The not-so-mini-book contains the WHOLE Christmas story!
The longer and larger book is so that we can include the WHOLE Christmas story from the Bible – complete and unabridged! We go from Zechariah and Elizabeth’s miraculous baby (John) all the way through Simeon and Anna at the temple, the visit of the wise men, the escape to Egypt and the return to Nazareth. To do this, we have used episodes from both Matthew and Luke’s gospels, clearly marking which passage is from where.
- The stickers tell the story
Each year, the design of the calendar is created to, as far as possible, tell the story in the pictures. As each sticker is added, the picture changes telling the next section of the story. The book which comes with it has a story section for each sticker, but having heard it read, younger users will enjoy using the stickers to re-tell the story.
- The story starts with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth
I know it’s unusual, but I always wanted to include their part of the story, not least because it includes two wonderful passages about what Jesus will do (the angel to Zechariah and Zechariah to the people at John’s naming).
- The book includes the full text of Zechariah’s speech when John is born.
Did you know that this is know as the Benedictus? This is the Latin word for Blessed, which is the first word of this passage (in Hebrew it’s Baruch). This year I’m exploring Zechariah’s prophetic words, and will be sharing some of that with you closer to Christmas *watch this space*
- The calendar has a wonderful picture of the temple, using historic images to get it as good as possible.
The temple was at the centre of the spiritual life of God’s people for generations, and some of the major events in the Christmas story happen there so it was important to have it in the picture. I love how the artist, Melanie Chadwick, has included the the outer court and the holy place, showing the incense altar which Zechariah was using when he saw Gabriel, the lamp stand and the curtain into the Holy of Holies. For me, Bible pictures should always leads us to a closer understanding of the Bible and not give us things we have to later unlearn, so I’m delighted there is this much detail.
- The story includes Mary visiting Elizabeth.
This is hard to include if we don’t include the rest of Elizabeth’s story, but it’s a wonderful moment when these two women meet, one young, one old, both unexpectedly pregnant. It’s when the Bible tells us that John moved in response to ‘meeting’ Jesus, even though they were both ‘in utero’!
- We have the full text of the Magnificat!
Including Mary’s visit to Elizabeth allows us to also include what Mary says, the passage known as The Magnificat. It’s a shame for us to miss this glorious speech / song in a rush to get to the birth of Jesus as there’s so much about WHY Jesus was born in it.
- The story is evenly balanced, with roughly the same amount to read each day.
While previously the story has been cut up to fit the picture and sticker, this year the story has been divided into forty segments, giving you around 80-ish words to read each day. We’ve then made the stickers fit this story, which means sometimes we’ve had to work quite hard! Sometimes there are a few more or less words as we’ve also tried to give you a roughly even focus on each segment of the story.
- The story is played out in the geographic loctions.
I love maps and I enjoyed laying out the different story sections in the places they happened. It’s interesting to see how much movement goes on in the story, and if you look on google maps you can even see how many miles people travelled, e.g. from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then on to Egypt!
- Long stretches of prophetic speech have been illustrated!
Some of the longer speeches by angels, Mary and Zechariah have stretched over multiple days and therefore we have designed stickers which show pictorially something which is being spoken of. You’ll see these in speech bubbles (check out the sticker sheet!).
- Jesus is born on Christmas day!
Well, he probably wasn’t, but this is when we celebrate it, so it’s nice to have the story of his birth fall on the 25th December. This gives families a reason to pause for a moment or two in the business and excitement of Christmas Day and remember who and why we’re celebrating.
- The story continues after Christmas day!
This is a bit controversial, but to fit the WHOLE story in and to have Jesus birth on Christmas day, we now have the story and the stickers continuing after Christmas, with the visits from the shepherds, the wise men and so on. The hope is also that many families are very busy in the run up to Christmas, but might have a little more time to enjoy the story after Christmas day. I look forward to hearing if this works!
- Light appears when God is at work in a place!
This is because of this verse from Isaiah 9:2:“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.”I love how this sentence spoken by Zechariah is like a summary of the whole Christmas story – Jesus, light of the world – has come, and our lives will never be the same!
If you look carefully, you’ll see each time God is at work, some form of light appear, usually on the sticker of that part of the story. How many can you spot?
- Animals are poo-ing.
This is a bit of a tradition, and is enjoyed by many children. There’s no theology behind it, just to have some fun, which I think God is happy with!
- Angels have no wings.
This might seem a bit strange, but despite a long tradition of painting angels with wings, the Bible doesn’t mention that they have them! They are described differently by different people, including being ‘men dressed in white’. There’s definitely something different about them, and most people seem to need telling not to be afraid when they see one, from which we can assume they may well be a bit scary to see!
- There’s a pause mid-way in the story.
After Christmas and after the stories of Simeon and Anna, which will be less familiar to many families, there’s an invitation to pause and chat about the story. There are three open-ended questions to help start your chat. (These are also given on the calendar.)
- The calendar is twice as big as before!
This year, the calendar will arrive folded at A4, but with a gate-fold in the front which you will open to reveal the calendar picture. It means the calendar will take up more space in your home, but I hope it will also mean it gives a larger focus on Jesus and the meaning of Christmas. It also means it should stand up more easily – let me know how this works for you!
- There’s no plastic wrapper!
Each year previously, I’ve packed the calendar in a plastic wrapper. Last year it was a biodegradable one, but this year because of the folding opening, I’m trying a No Plastic version. There’s a risk of things slipping out, but this should happen in the post 😉
- It looks like a present 🙂
Each year, I give away at least 10% of the calendars to people who can’t afford them. This year that number will be bigger than ever, and I know that most people who buy them give them to families they know. This year the calendar even looks like a wrapped up present, hopefully also giving the subtle message that this story is a gift for you – it’s the most precious gift we get at Christmas, and one which lasts all year!What do you love?If you’ve received your calendar, why not take a minute to let me know what you love most about it here
And if you love this, watch out for the GodVenture Easter Countdown Calendar which will be available to purchase by Christmas!