A personal post for a personal time of year: 
Christmas memories hold for me–as I imagine they do for a host of others–a mixture of pleasure and pain. 
Some of my sharpest Christmas memories are from the mid-1990s, when I was in college. I had become a Christian in my freshman year, then lost faith about 18 months later. I was very shaken over this loss, and Christmas was always a time when I could edge closer to faith again. I’d come home to Colorado Springs and visit New Life Church, which at that time was pastored by a Ted Haggard who was at the very top of his game: full of life and love, unpolitical, preaching a gospel of hope for everyone in the world. Anyone who was around New Life in those days understands why the church grew by leaps and bounds. I had found faith at New Life, and I always loved being back there–even if I couldn’t quite believe anymore, at least I could remember what it felt like to believe, and to be among those who did. 
The Christmas season was also a chance to sing Christmas carols, whether at New Life or alone in my car. The richest of those carols described for me the contours of the faith I wanted to hold:
O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear savior’s birth. 

Long lay the world 
In sin and error, pining
Until he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. 

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
I sang my heart out to songs like that, and while singing I’d realize I meant every word. It was too beautiful to doubt. I can remember driving around Colorado Springs for hours, all alone, singing and crying. It’d be several years before I could say anything approaching the Apostles Creed with anything approaching intellectual honesty and faith, but those carols were practice for what came later. 
At the same time, Christmas meant going home, and home was a hard place to be. I won’t go into that here, except to say that I’m familiar with the tension so many people feel in homecoming over the holidays. For many, family dread is as much a part of the holidays as Christmas trees and turkeys, wassail and long lines at Target. And for me, it was those same Christmas carols that helped me live with the tension and hope that better days would come. Again from “O Holy Night”:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
That was the right prayer for my family. It has come to pass, in some crucial ways. Remember it, if it’s the right prayer for yours, too. 
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