“Over and over Jotham screamed for his family, but there was no one to hear him. They had vanished. He was alone. Where had they gone? How long ago did they leave? Through quick stabbing sobs, Jotham told himself, ‘I must look for my family. I must search until I find them.” And so his journey began.”
Several years ago, my wife got a book to read aloud to the kids for Advent. We’d done several different Advent devotions over the years that involved reading a little something every day: Advent calendars, sticker storybooks, Jesse trees, so I thought, “Cool!” and didn’t think much more about it. Then we started reading this book, Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide, and entered a whole new level of Family Advent devotion.
The book follows Jotham, a 10 year-old Jewish shepherd boy living with his family in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth. Jotham desperately wants to accompany his older brothers on a trip to Hebron because he’s captivated by the sights and sounds of big cities. When his father flatly denies this request because he’s too young, Jotham runs away to prove he’s old enough to take care of himself. However, when his anger cools and his fear rises during the night, he returns home the next day to find his family has packed up the tents and taken off…without him!
Jotham discovers his family thinks he’s dead, killed by a wild animal. But why did they go? Mystery. And that launches the story and his journey to find them. This is a really great tale. Jotham gets into all kinds of adventures, falls in and out of all kinds of trouble, and experiences all the variances of first century Jewish culture in the people he meets. Along the way, his story cleverly intertwines with the characters and story of Jesus’ birth.
This is historical fiction so, while you’re enjoying an engaging yarn, you’re also learning about the people, places, and lifestyle of first century Israel. As well, the story of Christ’s birth slowly unfolds as you approach Christmas. You read a chapter a day all the way through Advent, and each chapter ends with a reflection that ties the story to a teaching about Advent and the coming of Jesus. Additionally, the book guides you in using an Advent wreath. It instructs you to light the appropriate Advent candle before reading the chapter. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter’s reflection:
“Today we begin the Advent season by lighting the first violet candle. This candle reminds us of God’s promise that, though like Israel we have been disobedient children who are lost and alone in the desert, he has sent a Messiah, a shining light, a Savior, to lead us back to God. Like Jotham, we each have a long journey ahead of us—a journey that unfolds day by day. But, also like Jotham, we can be confident that no matter what we encounter along the way, we can have hope and faith in a God who loves us, and who desires only the best for us. If only we seek him.”
The reflections include psalms and passages from the Old Testament that prophesy and prefigure the coming of the Messiah, and they teach how Jesus is their fulfillment. It’s an excellent learning tool! While enjoying a wonderful story, you understand the meaning of Advent and how it affects your life. Your children will be eager to read every day and find out what happens next. And, you’ll be pretty interested yourself.
I highly recommend Jotham’s Journey for your family’s Advent devotions. It’s great for kids up to 10 years old, but this year, my wife pulled it out again and my 13 year-old is still enjoying it. It had been a while since they read it and everything is new and exciting again. I saw people comment on the Amazon website saying they used it successfully with middle-schoolers, so obviously it has a wide appeal.
This was Ytreeide’s first book, but he wrote several others after this one involving other characters from Jotham’s story in parallel adventures.There are two other Advent stories and one set around the time of the Crucifixion that tells the Easter story. That’s several years worth of good family Advent devotions.
Note: This post originally appeared on CatholicMom.com. Unfortunately, this review comes a little late for this year’s Advent devotions. If I had my stuff together, I would have told you about this about a month ago–before Advent started. Alas, no such productivity. You’ll have to settle for doing this next year. But think about it, you’re already ahead of the game for next Advent.