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Re-seeing the Story of Christmas

The season of Christmas is, for so many of us, a crazy-busy, head-spinning, noise-making, exhausting affair.

We’re supposed to feel peace on earth but our days and nights are anything but peaceful.

Every heart is expected “to prepare Him room” but, like the Bethlehem Inn of Luke 2:7, there’s no room in our hearts for Jesus to make a leisurely visit, crowded as they are with worries over things that we can rarely control.

We sing about silent nights, but we find ourselves tumbling from one commitment to another and our head space is anything but the language of the beloved carol, “Silent Night,” where all said to be “calm.”

We confess belief in angels and virgin births and strange magi from the east, but our sermons invariably find ways to domesticate the fantastical aspects of the nativity stories and to rob us of an encounter with the truly terrifying nature of the Incarnation.

We tell the children in our communities that baby Jesus “no crying he makes,” but these same children face anxieties that they struggle to articulate and fear to make public.

We’re told to “repeat the sounding joy” three times, but what we really feel is deeply frustrated by all sorts of strained family dynamics that never seem to improve.

And we extol the simplicity of the manger but find ourselves drowning in a torrent of messages that tell us to do more and to be more, because our happiness presumably lies in the exact opposite of what Mary and Joseph possessed at the hour of Christ’s birth.

So what do we do?

One thing we can do is resist the story that the “market” keeps telling us and instead read, as if for the first time, the story that Matthew and Luke tell—discovering in this re-reading something far more life-giving than we ever imagined possible.

This is something that I have written about before, in The Washington Post and in Christianity Today. And it’s something that Phaedra and I have tried to wrestle with in our own family practices and in this new set of illustrated prayer cards that we’ve created, The Light Has Come.”

Our hope, it should be said, is not simply to offer practical help to celebrate the so-called reason for the season. Our hope, more critically, is to help re-imagine the season of Advent, wherein our own experiences of painful longing are not inimical to true happiness, nor a sign that we have failed in some way and are thereby being punished by God, but are rather central to God’s work of making us more like Jesus.

Our hope is to help re-imagine the season of Advent, wherein our own experiences of painful longing are not inimical to true happiness, nor a sign that we have failed in some way and are thereby being punished by God, but are rather central to God's work of making us more like Jesus. W. David O. Taylor

Our hope is to help re-feel our way through the often-dissonant practices of Christmas in our country, which invariably lead to a confusion of feelings about what we ought to be doing with ourselves in light of the burden of demands that we both place upon ourselves and that are placed upon us by others, “to do Christmas right.”

Our hope is to help re-sense the Feast of the Epiphany as our own story too—as the story of God becoming manifest within the often-oppressive mundane circumstances of our lives, within our own challenging contexts of Christian mission, and within our own stories of displacement.

Our desire, in short, is to make this tripartite season feel more truly meaningful through the media of word and image. For it is not just words in our heads that shape our sense of the good life, it is images as well—often very broken ones, too.

What Stanley Hauerwas once wrote of the gospel, we believe applies also to the good work of art: “That God is lord of history means we must be able joyfully to imagine that things need not and will not go on just as they are but as God will have them.”

“Fantastical” by Phaedra Taylor

For us, with this collection of illustrated prayers, it means seeing with Spirit-baptized imaginations the true nature of faith and hope, joy and peace, shepherds and angels, but also our own experiences of feasting and sorrow, fear and doubt, along with the political implications of Mary’s Magnificat and the public ramifications for Christian faith in the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.

What does it mean to possess a distinctly “Christian mind” (to borrow the language of the Anglican literary critic Harry Blamires) about Christmas? How do we make space for both praise and lament on New Year’s Eve? How might the gospel teach us to begin a new thing well? How might the saints of old, who lived in such strange and distant times, help us to live well in our contemporary society?

These are the kinds of questions that fired our own imaginations as we set about to make images and to write prayers that might help us to embody the gospel in our own times and places.

Our hope, in the end, is that this set of prayer cards might invite people to stop, to look, and to listen to the nativity narratives in order to discover afresh a story that heals this very broken and beloved world of ours as well as to experience anew the good story of Christ’s coming in this often-harried season of the year.


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