I hope you’ve been enjoying the Alt Carols album this week. Aside from the diverse musical genres and creative artistry, for me the power of it has been lighting up age-old lyrics in a way that has landed for me in a new way. It has brought our essential story—the Christmas story—to life.

A few centuries ago, during the Enlightenment, it was decided that this story would have to justify itself according to the scientific principle, meaning that the Christian faith had to be proved through reason and evidence. Instead, the true curve of the universe is not revealed through scientific discoveries, but through the daily realities of our lives. We find there that we are not masters of our universe, but worshippers within it. It’s the heart as much as the head, which steers our daily lives and our future destiny. As Augustine says of our Creator, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” We are restless creatures, drawn to God as the Source of our yearnings, and yet also bent towards other loves.

The late novelist, James Foster Wallace, describes this struggle in his famous commencement lecture at Kenyon College in 2005. He says: “In the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power and you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.”

Wallace brilliantly names the human struggle to live an authentic life. It’s a big project and one that took nothing less than God himself taking on the human condition and breathing heaven’s new life into a weary world. As Advent approaches, we’re seeking to let this story fill our imaginations afresh and to invite others into this wild adventure.

Rev Jonny Grant