Parents searching for a creative and entertaining way to celebrate the Advent season with their children can end the quest with Bartholomew's Passage: A Family Story for Advent (Servant Publications, 2002). Author Arnold Ytreeide has created a captivating story that will appeal to all ages and facilitate family devotions during the time still left before Christmas day.
"Advent is a time of worship, a time of reflection, a time of focus and a time of family communion," says Ytreeide. "In the midst of December's commotion and stress, it's a few moments to stop, catch your breath and renew your strength from the only One who can provide true strength."
Bartholomew, Ytreeide's title character, lives in Israel during the time of Jesus' birth. The ten-year-old boy is separated from his family when Roman soldiers ravage their hometown. Bartholomew is forced into slavery, and then condemned to have his hands cut off when he drops a vessel in his master's house.
His narrow escape is the first of many dangers Bartholomew faces as he struggles to survive and eagerly anticipates the Messiah's birth. Though the main character is a child, Bartholomew's Passage is not just a children's story. In fact, the book carries a note to parents suggesting that they carefully consider the content before reading the story to younger children.
"Jesus was not born at an amusement park or religious retreat," writes Ytreeide. "He was born into a world of sin, darkness and death. ...While the story is fun and adventurous and has the most happy of endings, it does take place in the real world: There is greed, there is cruelty, there is death. The point is not to cover up the dark side of life, but rather to show how the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ is the light of our lives."
Bartholomew lives in a time that brought persecution and fear to his people. Because of the violence and political turmoil, he is forced to grow up fast, and he develops insights and wisdom far beyond his years. However, the dilemmas he faces do not include material that any seven-year-old has not been exposed to in movies, TV or cartoons.
Ytreeide makes the story an excellent tool for parents by dividing it into brief daily chapters, each with questions and devotional thoughts to guide a family discussion on moral issues arising out of the story. While the Advent season has already begun, the story can be easily adapted for the shorter period leading up to December 25. In reality, once begun, the story is hard to put down.
An introductory section reminds readers of -- or introduces them to -- Advent customs and symbols we use during the holy season, including the Advent calendar, the Advent wreath, what the different colors of the candles mean, when to light them and when Advent begins.
"In our family," the author explains "we set aside 15 minutes each night before the youngest goes to bed. Our Advent wreath has a traditional place on a table next to the living room reading chair. By the light of the Advent candles I read the last few lines of the previous day's Bartholomew story, then the story and devotion for that day. It's a wonderful way to keep the shopping and traffic and rehearsals and concerts and parties and preparations of December in balance with the reality of God in our lives -- past, present and future."
Bartholomew's Passage is a sequel to Jotham's Journey, written for the author's own children and published in 2000. Ytreeide plans to release the final title in the trilogy next Christmas; the main character will be a young girl named Tabitha. The Ytreeides live in Nampa, Idaho. In addition to writing, the former youth pastor and police officer is founder of Storyteller Productions, a television production company.
Along with the Ytreeides, other families will surely laugh and cry with the extraordinary young Bartholomew in his trials and his triumphs.
By Randall Murphree, Reviewer