Christmas: The Season of Life and Light, By Emily Hunter McGowin alt


The Season of Life and Light

The Fullness of Time

by Emily Hunter McGowin

  • Length: 152 pages
  • Published: September 12, 2023
  • Imprint: IVP Formatio
  • Item Code: A0041
  • ISBN: 9781514000410

*affiliate partner

"O wondrous exchange!"

Of all the seasons of the church calendar, Christmas is the one most recognized and celebrated by our society at large. That means it's the season we're most familiar with—but that can also make it harder to see past Christmas's many cultural trappings to its timeless beauty.

At the first Christmas, God exchanged the glories of divinity for the vulnerability of human existence, uniting himself to us in order to unite us to God. In this short volume, priest and theologian Emily Hunter McGowin invites us into the church's celebration of that great exchange, in all its theological and liturgical splendor.

Each volume in the Fullness of Time series invites readers to engage with the riches of the church year, exploring the traditions, prayers, Scriptures, and rituals of the seasons of the church calendar.

"I have systematically read the best Christmas books, but this is the one I have been waiting for. Rather than addressing just the cultural or theological aspects, Emily Hunter McGowin brilliantly connects them. For those who sometimes feel uncertain about how to navigate the holiday season, Christmas: The Season of Life and Light illuminates a faithful, Yuletide lane with the festive glow of twinkling lights."

Timothy Larsen, editor of The Oxford Handbook of Christmas

"I've wanted to make Christmas more spiritual without nagging about nonreligious symbols or being an impolite guest while partygoers sip champagne to the melody of 'Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.' Thank you, Emily, for showing the way! Christmas: The Season of Life and Light both reveals the history and mystery of the birth of Jesus and shows us how to celebrate it in truly spiritual ways."

Todd Hunter, founding bishop of the diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others and author of What Jesus Intended: Finding True Faith in the Rubble of Bad Religion

"As a pastor I used to dread the Christmas season, in fear that the church had lost the narrative. In Christmas, Emily Hunter McGowin masterfully blends her theological mind and her pastoral heart and goes a long way toward reclaiming the story and its meaning. She breaks the knot of syrupy sentimentalism and rampant commercialism, not with a snub nor judgment but with a generous resanctification of our traditions that creates space for us to experience the life and light of this treasured time of year. With this book in hand, I can't wait to enter into the next Christmas season!"

Jin Cho, Anglican priest and cohost of The Micah Podcast

"Emily Hunter McGowin's Christmas is a beautiful guide through a rich season in the church calendar. With grace and wisdom, McGowin unpacks history, metaphor, tradition, and contemporary illustrations of the holiday in a way that is both profoundly insightful and delightfully readable. This is a great companion for laypeople, Christian educators, pastors, and students alike, written with an invitational spirit of discovery. I'll be recommending Christmas far and wide!"

Courtney Ellis, pastor and author of Happy Now

"This book is a gift. As Christians, we have all experienced the challenge of navigating culture while living a liturgical life during the Christmas season. Emily McGowin's volume on Christmas for the Fullness of Time series offers a faithful way through by distilling some of the most important biblical and theological insights of what is revealed to us about God from Advent to Christmas. In this beautifully written book, McGowin offers a discerning and insightful guide for deepening Christian faith and practice during the season of Christmas."

Jennifer Powell McNutt, Franklin S. Dyrness Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College

"Theologically rich, historically anchored, liturgically alert, socially alert, wide ranging, culturally connected, and all this always with an eye on the church—such expressions reveal the value of this small, timely, and wonderful book about Christmas. Buy it during Advent, wrap it up under the tree, and give your friends or family a gift that will stimulate their faith during Christmastide. The gift of Christmas will be made more generous by the gift of this book."

Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and author of The Jesus Creed

"Emily McGowin's Christmas has something to offer everyone: longtime Christians, people who are new to the faith, those who worship in liturgical spaces, Christians in nondenominational spaces, even non-Christians. It is a beautiful reminder of what Christmas is about at the core. McGowin's personal stories about faith and family plus her knowledge of theology and church history make a book that is enjoyable, educational, and full of hope. It's the perfect book to read on your own or with a group in preparation for the season of Christmas."

Kimberly Deckel, priest and executive pastor at Church of the Cross Austin

"Those of us who are tired or cynical at Christmastime need this book by Emily McGowin, who gives Christmas back to us without stinginess or sentimentality, inviting us to wonder at the Word made flesh. McGowin brings the wisdom of the theological adept, the pastoral heart of the priest, and the tenderness of the disciple to help us understand what it means to worship a newborn king."

Beth Felker Jones, professor of theology at Northern Seminary and author of Practicing Christian Doctrine

"The seasons of the Christian year have been a wonderful discipleship tool that the church has used to celebrate the major events of the life of Jesus and the kingdom of God for centuries. Christmas is my favorite season of the Christian year. I love the colors, sights, and smells of the season. Emily McGowin has written a wonderful book that reminds us of the beauty and the mystery of the virgin birth of our Savior Jesus Christ."

Winfield Bevins, author of Liturgical Mission and director of church planting at Asbury Theological Seminary

"Christmas is often shrouded in consumerism and controversy. This book reveals the mystery of the birth of Christ, and it unwraps the historical and biblical wonder of the birth of a Savior. It reinvigorates the exquisite gift of Christmas and draws the reader to the transformative work of the virgin birth. The Son of God born in a manger is 'the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being' (Hebrews 1:3). It is a beautiful reminder of the gift of God's only begotten Son to us."

Gricel Medina, senior pastor of La Trinidad Covenant Church

"I highly recommend this incredible book on the historical and contemporary significance of the Christmas season. Emily Hunter McGowin writes in a winsome and engaging manner. Her use of stories—both personal and ecclesial—brings the book to life! Her historical account is detailed yet concise, offering an expansive overview of the origins of this sacred and beloved holiday from its inception to the present day. By peeling back the layers of the cultural significance of Christmastide, Dr. McGowin invites Christians around the globe to take a closer look at the beauty and light that radiates from the Christ of Christmas."

Christin J. Fort, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary

Read an Excerpt


Series Preface

An Introduction
1. The Origins of Christmas
2. God of the Great Exchange
3. God of the Poor
4. God of Creation and Re-Creation
5. God of Life and Light
Conclusion: God of the Crèche and the Cross

Appendix: The Scriptures and Collects of Christmastide


You May Also Like

Emily Hunter McGowin

Emily Hunter McGowin (PhD, University of Dayton) is associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. She is the author of Quivering Families and Christmas, and coeditor of God and Wonder. Her articles have appeared in Christianity Today and The Week. She is a priest and canon theologian in the Anglican diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others. She and her husband, Ron, also a priest, live in Chicagoland with their three children.