A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of Advent resources that our family has used during the season. This year, we're using the new Prepare Him Room: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus devotional by my friend, Marty Machowski. I was recently able to corresponded with Marty and I asked him questions about the devotional, storytelling, and the message of Christmas. Here is how he answered my questions.
Jared: Why did you decide to write an Advent devotional?
Marty: Prepare Him Room started as an Advent devotional for Covenant Fellowship, to help our congregation focus on Christ in the Christmas season. After receiving good feedback I decided to rewrite the devotional for families beyond our church and added the Christmas short story and a few more activities for families.
Jared: Can you tell me a bit about the format of the devotional?
Marty: Prepare Him Room provides three devotions for each of the four weeks of Advent. The first devotion explores an Old Testament prophecy. The second devotion highlights an announcement of that same prophetic message, like Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce God’s plan to bring her a son. The third devotion explores the Scriptural fulfillment of the prophecy and announcement.
In addition to these Bible devotions, there are family activities, outreach ideas, and a four-part short story, designed to be read on the weekend.
Jared: We've only read the first chapter as a family at this point, but my kids are already asking--is the Bartimaeus story true? Where did you come up with the idea?
Marty: I love telling stories to my children. I just make them up as I go along. That is how Bartimaeus started out. I even put the song the children in the story sing, "A Grueling Life," to music. When our home school ministry was looking for a story line for a Christmas musical, I gave them my rough story and the song. The director changed the story a bit to make it work and gathered a host of songwriters to turn it into a musical.
After that, I decided to polish my original storyline and added details and set the story in history. The California Gold rush left a lot of orphaned children back east in the big cities. There were 30,000 orphans in New York City alone. That is the setting I chose for the story.
It is my hope families will read the Bartimaeus story each Christmas building a family tradition that will go on for years.
Jared: What helps you grow as a storyteller? What is your system for recording stories?
Marty: Recording stories is easy with today’s smart phones and voice memos. All you have to do is open an app, and start talking. Most of my stories, while enjoyed by my own children, are not that great. But every now and then, I come up with a winner – a story that my children want to hear again and again. If you tell enough stories, you bound to create a good one now and then. Even if you never publish a story, your kids will absolutely love listening to the recordings later on.
Jared: Christmas is a season for giving, but often we have a tendency just to think about ourselves. How can your devotional help a family that is more inwardly focused to be more outward?
Marty: One of the most frequent weaknesses of a solid Christian family is reaching out to friends and neighbors. Even though most Christians agree that evangelism and outreach are important, the busyness of life often robs us of the opportunity. When you consider that Christmas is the one season in the year that most people are open to coming to church, it provides a perfect chance to invite folks to church.
Too often Christmas is about getting – gifts, food, parties, vacation time, and more. But the message God ordained is one of giving. God gave up his Son for us, the most amazing gift of all. When we consider what a great salvation God provided, completely all of grace, it should move us beyond study to action.
I wanted to help families do more than study Scripture; I wanted families to live the Scripture they study. When it comes to Christmas, the message is clear – it is all about proclamation. Whether it is the prophet Isaiah, “For unto us a son is given,” or the angels, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” the message is meant to be spread. The celebration of Christ’ birth was never intended to remain within the four walls of our homes.
I'm really thankful for Marty's kindness in sharing his time with us. If you found this interview encouraging, please leave Marty a note of thanks below.