Book Review: ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist

We saw snow on Sunday in Kentucky. Actual white flakes fell from the sky. Apparently the weather is not heeding by the “no Christmas until Thanksgiving” rule that I grew up with because the mere sight of snow sent my children, particularly my youngest, into a Christmas tizzy.

Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I too get a little bit of that excitement when I saw the snow falling. I love Christmas. But more precisely, I love Advent. I love the anticipation; the time leading up to our celebration of Christ’s birth. Now, I realize that likely Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 and that the background of the holiday was decidedly pagan and that the Wise Man have their own holiday (Epiphany) for a reason and … all those things.

But for us, Christmas IS actually the celebration of Christ’s birth.

We anticipate that moment. We talk about why He came. We talk about the miracle of His birth. We talk about how heaven came to earth; how God became man and walked around us, fully God and fully man. How He chose to come as an infant, wrapped in frail flesh, carrying within Him the hope of the world.

I realize, of course, that not everyone who celebrates Christmas does so with this particular anticipation. In fact, many do not really await the chance to celebrate Christ’s birthday but rather just anticipate the arrival of a jolly red-suited fellow with white whiskers and a sack full of presents. There are many traditions in our current celebration that have little to do with anticipating Christ’s birth and much more to do with a modern celebration of a holiday.

But, let’s look at that for just one moment. When Christ came into the world, He came with a purpose – redemption. Rather than discard the world, He redeemed it. And I happen to think we, as His followers, can do that same, if we so desire.


I think that’s exactly what my friend Glenys Nellist had in mind when she wrote ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas. I know a lot of people that like to read the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on, well, the night before Christmas – Christmas Eve. The traditional poem is all about that latter anticipation – waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. It’s pretty much impossible to grow up in modern Western civilization and not hear this poem at some point. It’s as familiar as candy canes and caroling.

But it doesn’t really capture what we wait for. It doesn’t point us to our much-anticipated moment. It doesn’t lead us to Jesus. 

Twas The Evening Cover

So Glenys redeemed it. ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas has the same rhythm, the same cadence, the same comfortable traditional Christmas Eve feel but it leads us to a manger, to a moment, to what we celebrate at Christmas.  My favorite line is when Jesus is born and and animals take notice that this is nor ordinary birth.

“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep. Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep. They all came to gaze at the small baby boy, As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”

Our family loves the idea of redemption. The lights of Christmas remind us that the Light of the World has come. The evergreen tree reminds us that we’ve been given the gift of eternal life. The shadow of the needles on the ceiling remind of us the crown of thorns that Jesus would one day wear for us.

If reading the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a tradition in your home, why not use this simple story to redeem that moment too?  It’s a chance, a simple way, to remember what Christmas is all about for those of us who follow Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior.

(If you’d like to know more about the book and author click here and to read future reviews, go to . Interested in getting your own copy?  Comment below or on Facebook by November 6 to be entered to win a free copy!  Last year I got to share about her book Christmas Love Letters from God which makes for a great Advent Journey for young children; you can read that review here)

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About this Blog


Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and  Seedbed

Book Review: Team Up! by Phil Bell

teamupI’ve been putting off writing this book review for a month. Not because I’ve been dreading it. Certainly not; to the contrary, this was perhaps one of the best books I’ve read for churches that are transitioning into family ministry. If anything, the reason I’ve hesitated is because I’m not sure I can do it justice. So, if what I say below doesn’t entice you to GO. GET THIS BOOK. READ IT. then feel free to ignore what I say and just do as I do (Go. Get the book. Read it!) .

Author Phil Bell starts out the book sharing a bit of his own testimony and experience in family ministry. As he shares, he answers some of the questions I know that many of us have when it comes to how family ministry looks and feels within a church setting. Questions like, “What is family ministry?” and “What if parents don’t want to partner with me?” and “But how can I give parents practical help?”  If you are in children’s or family ministry, you’ve probably asked at least one of these questions. This book can give you some amazing answers.

Phil begins with a look at where family ministry starts – at home. And not just any home – your home. Without this foundation in place, the ministry that happens lacks content. “The way you invest in your own family will significantly affect the fruit of your ministry” (p. 25). Throughout the book, Phil reminds us to keep an eye on our home and how our ministry activity is affecting our family.

From that point, each chapter of the book unfolds a cohesive and practical plan for implementing family ministry in your church. He covers everything from creating a team, casting vision, resourcing and equipping parents, implementing a strategy and identifying a network of partners. A few highlights that stood out to me…

Chapter 5 – Communicate strategically

Phil introduces us to his concept of “promotion dilution” which is basically the bombardment of parents by hundreds to thousands of messages every week from a variety of sources until it all becomes a diluted blur. In church it happens when we attempt to promote too many events and programs at a given time. He shares, “In our charge to promote everything we’re doing, nothing really gets highlighted.”

This really hit home for me both as a parent and a minister! So how do you get your message through the blur?  The book offers so many ideas on how to get heard but the one that stuck out to me? “Say multiple things in multiple ways.”  Don’t expect your singular email or your solitary text to reach parents. If you want to be heard, use multiple avenues to say what you want to say in different ways. After reading this, I actually decided to start doing short training videos week for my volunteers and found I reached a much larger audience and had a lot more interaction than all my emails, texts and Facebook messages.

Chapter 7- Equip Disengage Parents

This is a tough one. How are you supposed to help parents disciple their kids at home if the parents you serve are disengaged and completely unconnected to you? Instead of skirting the issue, Phil addresses this concern straight on.  He offers a lot of great hints and tips about how to help the conversation you start at church to continue at home, but the key is in his summary, “The biggest hurdle to equipping parents is getting them to show up, and to clear that hurdle we have to put their – not our – needs first.”

This is exceptional advice and something that as ministers its sometimes hard to remember when we are juggling meetings, volunteer schedules, and room decor. But taking the time to really find out where the parents of our kids are coming from can actually make the journey from church to home a reality rather than just a hope.

Chapter 11 – Building a Network of Partners

If the above seems a bit overwhelming, take heart, the final chapter of the book reminds us that we are not alone. With amazing preciseness, Phil helps us identify people in our community and our church that can help us create a web of support for the families and parents in our church.

I found this final chapter to be the perfect way to tie up this book. All of the advice and ideas make the most sense in practical ministry when they are done within community.  As a minister, it is sometimes easy to feel like I’m alone in sharing with and ministering to parents in discipleship and faith formation at home. But Phil points out, “Many of the parents you and I minister to are working as hard as they can to give their kids the best they can. But they’re also feeling as though they’re going it alone.”  Building community is the answer for both of us.

This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that felt like it was written to me. I feel like I was being poured into by a minister and friend and I know it will end up being a go-to resource for years to come. Get your highlighters ready, grab your copy, and join me in exploring this thing we call “family ministry.”

Join the conversation on Facebook at ReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry.

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more home-focused, intergenerational ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at, Seedbed, and D6 Family.