Faith IN Christ
Well, here we are again, kneeling in the hay of the drafty cattle stall; the hay is scratchy but sweet smelling. Along with the cattle and sheep, we are warmed and mesmerized by the sight we see – the tiny baby snoozing in the animal’s feeding trough. Can you imagine a more humble birth, and yet, we have faith IN this birth and the impact it continues to have on the world.
We have faith in this newborn; we have faith that this tiny baby is our savior who, through his life, death, and resurrection, redeemed us from our sinfulness. God has come to earth in the human person of the Son, Jesus Christ – God Incarnate, God in human flesh. We are gathered here to celebrate because we have faith IN the Incarnation; we have faith IN Jesus Christ, our savior.
But, as we draw nearer, the babe opens his eyes and we see ourselves reflected there; and we understand, there is more. We are not called simply to have faith IN Jesus Christ; we are called to have the faith OF Jesus Christ. The calling of Christian discipleship requires us to seek the faith OF Jesus Christ. The tiny babe has come to earth to live and die as one of us, to show us what it is to have the faith OF Christ – the faith to which we are called.
There’s a wonderful story of a 1966 Children’s Christmas pageant that appeared in a publication of Guideposts and continues to circulate the Internet. I’ve shared it with you before and I share it again because it is so very filled with messages of the Good News. It is a story that we can remember and carry with us for reflection as we enter into the season of Christmas. The story illustrates so well the concept of expanding our faith IN Christ to the faith OF Christ.
The story is of Wallace Purling who was nine at the time and in the second grade though he should have been in the fourth. Wally was big for his age, described as clumsy and awkward in movement and mind. He was well liked, a known defender of the underdog, but nearly always the last to be chosen, if at all, for team sports.
For the parish Christmas pageant in this particular year, the director had assigned Wally the part as the surly innkeeper – a part with only a few lines and well-suited for Wally’s large intimidating stature. The big event arrived, and as the pageant progressed Wally waited off-stage for his cue, mesmerized. The journalist described the scene:
No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard [the director] had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.
Finally, the moment came for Joseph, gently escorting Mary, to knock desperately at the innkeeper’s door. Wally opened the door to confront the weary travelers who pleaded repeatedly for lodging. Again and again, their pleas were turned away by the surly innkeeper’s (attempted) gruff and stern responses, “There is no room.” “Seek lodging elsewhere.”
But, as this discourse continued, Wally’s eyes focused on the character of Mary, skillfully exuding the desperation of the expectant mother heavy with child. Then, there was an awkward silence as Wally, the innkeeper, struggled distractedly with his final line before he was to slam the door in the faces of the pleading couple. The director prompted him from offstage, “No.” “Begone.” At length, Wally regained his composure and repeated the words of the prompt, “No.” “Begone.”
These words were the cue for Joseph to place his arm around Mary’s shoulders and begin to move away dejectedly. As they departed, Wally stared behind them with his big sad eyes. And, caught up more in the mystery of God’s story of redemption than in this artificial role, rather than slamming the door in disgust as called for in the script, innkeeper Wally’s eyes filled with tears. To the amazement and/or consternation of the cast and the audience, Wally, departing from his script called out, “Don’t go, Joseph. Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”
Wally Purling wasn’t just IN the Christmas pageant; Wally was transformed into the faith OF the Christmas mission.
We have come on this holy evening to worship, and as we worship we come to know more of what it is to have the faith OF Jesus Christ.
In a few moments we will participate in the Holy Eucharist – our very first act of Christmas. Like the Incarnation, we will not simply remember and re-enact the Last Supper of our Lord, we will participate in and partake of the real presence of Christ. As we come in communion with one another, we live into the Body of Christ; we are transformed – we live into the faith OF Christ.
Christ’s Holy Table is set. We are invited to take and eat. C.S. Lewis reminds us, “The command was ‘Take, eat; not Take, understand.” So, like the Incarnation, it is in our finding of our place in the intricacies of the Holy Eucharist that we come to take on the faith OF Christ. Bit by tiny bit, the holy mystery is revealed and, like Wally the innkeeper, we experience the real presence of Christ in our midst and in our hearts and in our relationship with one another. Beyond having faith IN Christ, we are transformed into the faith OF Christ.
Merry Christ Mass in the faith OF Jesus Christ Our Lord.