I spent this Easter in Philadelphia. It was my first Sunday back from Dallas after moving there for a girl. We broke up. It was the final straw on what felt like an unbearable series of events: death, exile, rejection. We sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” That Constantine-eseque christus victor melody alone made me feel like vomiting. The words made me want to leave the faith.
In college, my historical theology professor would say every class, “Saints, the history of Christianity is a story of those who have given up, and those who have not.” I didn’t understand that until this year. The other day, my pastor told me, “Those who give up on the faith … The world calls them ‘brave.’ I call them chickenshit.” I’m certain you all will disagree with him. This Christmas season—as far as I can choose for myself—I do not disagree with him. He’s right—at least, he’s right for me. For many reasons, theological and personal.
Over the next three days, I will post three prayers—I will pray three prayers through Isaiah 7:14 (“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”). Besides attending church, it is my only practice of advent. These prayers are my attempt to embody what I have learned—what my shepherd has told me.
These prayers are for those who cannot celebrate Christmas for one basic reason: the hope of advent is unavailable. The hope of Christmas is inaccessible for many. The door may be open theologically, but it is closed psychologically. It is open principally, but closed personally. This Christmas, there are many who despair—who grieve. There are many who do not (and cannot) experience what Keller calls “Joy which transcends circumstances.” It just doesn’t make sense. The weight of that mystery weighs in sharp measure on the grieving this Christmas.
These prayers are a preemptive measure against another agonizing and injurious holy day. These prayers are a rude and unwelcome insistence of hope against profaning and impious impulses—in the midst of plummeting and impossible circumstances.
This has been a yearlong summer for me. The cold is refreshing. Subzero temperatures are, perhaps surprisingly, softening and strengthening (subverting, even) my hard heart. I have needed this winter in the North. It is a solace from self-judgment and a reckoning of divine injustices. Only God can determine what each will look like. I hope that the prayers will help some. For the grieving, I hope it will assist our genuine attempt to practice a tempered, but merry Christmas.