“Most Christians agree that Christmas is all about Jesus, yet few of our calendars would reflect that priority,” writes Asheritah Ciuciu. “Somewhere along the lines, this ‘most wonderful time of the year’ overwhelms us, making our souls feel both stuffed and empty.”
That’s why Asheritah wrote Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional. This book Ciuciu is designed through the four weeks of Advent (Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love), with interactive family devotionals, five daily reflections, and suggestions for fun-filled family activities or service projects.
I’m grateful that Asheritah was willing to answer some questions about this new book. Here’s a written transcript of my interview, with the video — and a book giveaway — at the end.
I am here with Asheritah Ciuciu, a friend that I met sometime last year, and Asheritah, good to talk to you.
Darryl, thank you so much for having me. This is so much fun.
Asheritah, you’ve just come out with a brand new book called Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional, and that’s been out just about month, I think?
Yeah, yeah, just over a month, right here, ready for the holidays.
Excellent. So, Christmas can be a very challenging time of year, and I don’t know if you find that. Some people love Christmas, but why do you think that for many of us, it’s so hard to focus on Jesus during Christmas?
Yeah. Honestly, I think there are two things. One is there’s just so much consumerism, right. Anytime that industry can make money, they will show us everything that we need to be happy, the next gadget we need to buy, or the perfect dress or purse, or the kids just have to have that. I think there’s that aspect of consumerism that wars with our souls. I think the other part is we might have the best intentions to prepare our hearts for Christmas and celebrate Jesus, but maybe we have never been taught how. What does that practically look like to prepare your heart for Christmas? That’s where my book comes in. It’s my answer to that conundrum.
You use Advent as a way of preparing for Christmas, so I know for some Evangelicals, for some Christians, that’s an unfamiliar concept for them. How did you come to appreciate the idea of Advent?
Yeah. I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, so it’s not part of my family history. But as a child, Christmas was not my favorite holiday. It wasn’t something I looked forward to, just because there was so much hubbub and so much going on, and I rather prefer the simple things in life. So, as a young adult, I found myself pregnant with my first child, and been moaning to an older friend of mine, saying, “I’m going to ruin my kids for life because I don’t love Christmas and I won’t know how to make this an exciting time for them,” and she was saying, “Asheritah, you can start new traditions for your family. You can do it however you want for your family.”
So, this is how I got introduced to this idea of Advent, which … It’s a Latin word. It has a rich history. It means coming. So, we celebrate the First Coming of Jesus, four weeks leading up to Christmas, but we also … Built into Advent is also looking forward to Jesus’s Second Coming, and I love that, that rich meaning in it. So, that’s what I want to give my kids at Christmas.
That’s great. Why did you choose to use or focus on the names of Jesus in this devotional?
Yeah, so studying Jesus’s names isn’t an Advent practice, per se, but as I took that turn in my journey, I really just started praying and asking the Lord, “Show me what Christmas is all about, and bring to me the joy of your salvation again, the joy of Jesus’s birth,” and the Lord pointed me to the names of Jesus. If we believe that Jesus is the greatest gift of the season, what does that mean? Who is Jesus? What did he do? What I found as I looked at his names in scripture and studied them, it was like each name individually was a new gift that I could unwrap and discover a different facet of his character and his mission and who he is. I love this idea throughout Advent, building up to the climax of his birth, unwrapping a different name a day, a different aspect of who he is. In my own life, that has led to so much joy and excitement and celebration to celebrate his birth at Christmas.
From what I can see, you’ve got, of course, the four weeks of Advent, and you’ve got daily devotions for each of the five days of the week, the weekdays, I guess. Tell me about the activities at the end of each week.
Yeah, so the way each week is structured is there are four weeks, five devotionals, like you said, on the names of Jesus each week, but also, each week begins with a celebration guide. So, there are four different themes: hope, preparation, joy, and love. And if you’re familiar with the kindle wreath, the Advent wreath, it kind of walks families through what is the wreath about, what each candle represents, what are scriptures and songs. So, that book ends the beginning of each week, and in the end of each week are the activities that you mentioned. Now that we’ve learned about the names of Jesus, how do we live that out? How does it influence the way we decorate the tree? The way we gift cookie exchanges, or how can we live out that Jesus is the light of the world, and he calls us to be the light of the world. So, they’re fun activities that you can do with kids, or you can do on your own, or with your spouse, or with your group at church. Just practical ways to live it out.
That’s great. Now, did you write this book with a certain type of person in mind? I’m sure you did. What were you hoping to accomplish with that person?
Yeah. I mean, my ministry, One Thing Alone Ministries, is geared toward busy women who love Jesus, but they’re busy, and there’s so much going on. So, my desire as I wrote this was that women who are busy don’t have time for yet another thing to do, and so what I want is this devotional, really, to transform the way that we do everything else, that it would be like living in a black-and-white 50s TV show, and going from that to a 3D immersive color experience where all of life comes alive as we see how Jesus is present in every detail. It’s not just another thing to do, it brings richer meaning to everything we’re already doing.
Wow, okay. But guys can benefit from it, obviously, too?
Absolutely, yeah. As we were going through the editing process, that’s one of the things that we were chatting earlier, Darryl. My editor pointed out, “Okay, I feel like men can read this,” and I was like, “Okay.” So, you won’t notice references just to women. The examples I try to give apply to both men and women, and really, any age. You can be an empty nester and read this, you can be a brand new parent, or a college student. Really, it’s about studying the names of Jesus, and that’s applicable to all of us, wherever we are.
I guarantee you I’ll be looking at it. I’ll be reading it, of course, but I think I’ll be using it as a pastor as well, just to think about how to approach it within our church. Yeah, so that was great.
Yeah, and I love that, Darryl, because our local church is using it, and I’ve heard of other churches who will be using the family celebration guides during their services, and I love that it can be used in many different ways.
That’s good. I hate to admit this, but I’ve had this love-hate relationship with Christmas. Mostly hate, actually. So, I love Christmas day, but it just begins so early. We’re coming up to Thanksgiving, and it just seems to go on and on and on, and I find it so hard to keep my focus on Jesus. What advice would you give to those of us who find Christmas to be a challenging time of year?
Yeah, I’m glad you brought it up, Darryl, because that’s where I started, right. I wasn’t really a fan of Christmas. I think shifting our focus from thinking of it as Christmas season to thinking in terms of Advent, which … It’s been a practice of the church for over 1,700 years. We can trace it back to the 300s AD, and really, it’s four weeks long. Not in the Christmas music and the hubbub and the shopping, but in the devotional, preparing your heart to celebrate his coming.
So, with this devotional, a different name every day, or you can skip a day, or spend three days on one name. It’s really focusing our hearts on Jesus, not just on the manger scene, but on Jesus as the King of Kings, Jesus as the Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega. What implications are there to our lives because of who Jesus is? And these truths, Darryl, carry not just throughout December, but into January and February, and I hope that as we read this book, it transforms us as worshipers, as how we see Jesus, but also how we live out the lives and the missions he has given us.
Excellent. Asheritah, you mentioned One Thing Alone, and it’s a ministry that I’ve come to appreciate. I don’t qualify, because I’m the wrong gender to be part of it, but there is part of it, and I see you on Facebook quite a bit. So, tell us a little bit about One Thing Alone.
Yeah, so One Thing Alone Ministries is here to help overwhelmed women find joy in Jesus, and even though that’s our mission statement, we have about 15% readers who are male, so Darryl, you’re welcome to benefit from blog posts and videos that we do, resources, books. We also have a membership committee, and that is women-only. But everything else is open to both men and women. Like you said earlier, my heart is … For those women who really love Jesus and want to go deeper with him, but they don’t have time; they don’t know how. How do I fit it in? The name
One Thing Alone comes from Jesus’s gentle interaction with Martha, which you’re probably familiar with that, as a pastor. You know, Martha’s preparing dinner for Jesus and his disciples, and she’s running around. I can empathize because I’m the type of person who has my checklist and is like, “All right, let’s get this done.” And there’s Mary, sitting at Jesus’s feet, and Martha says, “Don’t you care? I’m losing my mind here. Don’t you care that she’s not helping. Tell her to come help me.” Jesus, so much tenderness and gentleness, looks at her and says, “Martha, you’re busy and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is needed. One thing alone. Mary has chosen the better part, and it won’t be taken away from her.”
Jesus is saying, “I’m not going to make her get up and go help you in the kitchen. This is the one thing that changes everything else.” So, that’s my desire. In the midst of being a mom, and a wife, and a career woman, and a grandma, or a student, or a neighbor, or helping out at church, all these other things that we have on our plate, how do we choose that better part? How do we choose that one thing alone? That’s my heart for women.
How can women find out more about that?
Yeah, so they can go to onethingalone.com. That’s where pretty much everything is, the hub of it. Our blog is there. Also on Facebook. We can finally do weekly Facebook live videos, and I love to interact with readers and just offer them the opportunity to go deeper. In this Christmas season especially, one thing, Darryl, I wanted to mention is with the book, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, and I have a copy here.
Yeah, we’re offering a free, three-day sampler, so if your readers are watching this and thinking, “Hey, I wish I could know more,” you can go to unwrappingthenames.com, based on the title, and you can get a free, three-day sampler. Absolutely free, no commitment. I would love to just serve you that way.
Oh, thank you for that. We’ll be giving away a copy too, so I’m looking forward to giving maybe more. So, we’ll see. At least one copy.
Yeah. That’d be great.
Good. Asheritah, I always like to ask this when I interview somebody. I’ve become a fan of your ministry, and really appreciate what you’re doing. I love husband as well, so got to him … When was that, that we met? That was in Toronto-
Was it June? Yeah, yeah, it was so fun to meet you and your wife, yeah.
It was so cool. Yeah, absolutely. How can we pray for you and your ministry?
Oh, thank you for asking that, Darryl. I’m just always asking for wisdom. I feel like God has entrusted this ministry to my husband and I at such a young age, and we have young kids, and I want to steward well. I want to faithful in what he’s given me to do, so that’s always my biggest prayer request, that God would give us wisdom on how to parent well, how to love each other well as a couple, how to be faithful in this ministry he’s given us.
Okay. Good. Asheritah, thank you so much. I’m going to be going through the book over Advent. I really appreciate you and your ministry.
Darryl, thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun. I hope you have a wonderful Advent and Christmas season this year.
Good. Thank you too, and I think you’re coming out with a new book next year, so hopefully we’ll touch base about that too.
Yeah, that would be great.
Good. Thanks, Asheritah.
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Enter to Win a Copy
Click on the button below to win a copy of Unwrapping the Names of Jesus. The contest is open until 5PM EST on Thursday, November 30, and is open to Canadian and American residents.
Update: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to Mark Hollywood, winner of the giveaway.