I keep two sets of books. My private prayer list is about twice as big as the public one on Sunday. That’s ok. Sometimes folks don’t want to field questions about their struggles quite yet. Especially with holidays looming. Sometimes they don’t even have the answers to give.
How am I gonna get through this? What do I say? How do I write the Christmas letter? Loneliness. Shame. Loss. Guilt. Old wounds that don’t heal right. But we only love cheerful sounding Christmas hymns. Nobody wants to be the grinch. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. So we bury it. We spin it. We smile. Pretend. And gather together. It’s what we do. So I have two prayer lists. One for secret burdens. One for public life.
Maybe there’s two prayer lists, but they work just the same. It’s, after all, one merciful God who answers both, not for the sake of the many praying, but for the sake of the one sacrifice of the Son on the cross. God answers prayer because He actually loves us, not because of how many give voice to the need. That same One Lord brings us together. The Holy Spirit doesn’t just call me to Jesus. He gathers me together with you. One Lord, one faith. He makes my problems our problems. Even if you don’t know what they are. He gives us the words even when we can’t find them ourselves.
We speak and sing words that tell the truth even when we’d rather pretend we’re fine. I a poor miserable sinner. The “Lord, have mercy” Kyrie, that prayer that’s only 3 words long, pours out from the heart every secret burden is sung with every Christian on heaven and earth, all of us carried by Christ who Advents. Lord, now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace. The Holy Spirit gives joins our words together with scripture, with saints who have sung of secret and not so secret burdens for thousands of years. All of it points to the God who is merciful to sinners. Who actually shows up to help, comfort, and save.
Liturgy is a gift. Not just because it’s from the bible. Because it forces us to speak and sing about what really needs to be said. Law and gospel. When you leave me to my own devices, I’ll pretend things are fine when they’re not. I’ll pretend I’m not a sinner when I am. The liturgy teaches us to sing about who we are as sinners, redeemed by Christ. All of us. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
The Lord unites us under a promise. We aren’t just in this together. He’s in this for us. This isn’t just a safe place. It’s a holy place for you. God Advents. He comes to help sinners. He shows up in word and sacrament to forgive, to heal, to wash away all that we’d rather just bury under fake smiles and jingle bells.
Then He works through your vocations to do the simplest acts of love and charity that mean more to people than you’ll know. One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Whether or not you can give answer to secret pains, come to church and let the liturgy speak them for you. Find comfort with all the rest of us sinners in the God who shows up to answer us. Your sins are forgiven. Your shame is covered. Your loneliness is met with the communion of saints on earth and in heaven. Because God is merciful enough to gather us together to give us these gifts.