Friday, December 25, 2015

Trust and Betrayal: Christmas 2015

The priest gave a good homily. “Did it have to be so hard? Couldn’t God have waved a hand and fix everything without the mess of a pregnancy and baby in a stable behind a crowded inn?”

The proclamation of Jesus’ birth transfixed me, as it usually does:
The Twenty-fifth Day of December,
when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,
when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness;
when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace;
in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees;
in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt;
around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;
in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome;
in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace,
Jesus, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man:
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
The planners at St. Mary’s Church of Loretto had a more modern version—locating the birth within the billions of years since the universe began, as a point within incredibly recent history transforming humanity. Theistic evolution as a continuous action of God, preparing the way for the Messiah of God—possibly a man of just over five feet in height, with short hair, rough hands, and the features and manners of a Palestinian Jew from the First Century. (No wonder Lesslie Newbigin—I think he’s the one—referred to “the scandal of particularity.)

These repeated annual memories of God’s self-insertion into human experience suggested something to me this year, something about trust.

Life runs on trust. Society cannot exist without trust. But we experience betrayal so often that we trust hesitantly.

I think of someone who was once a good friend. I sat in the committee that recommended the end of his job. Later, when all of the proceedings were finally over, he made it clear that I had betrayed his trust and that our relationship was at an end. “It can never be safe for us to be friends.” Although I had fought for his position until I felt myself unsafe, I understood—and, grieving—understand still today. Betrayal, real or perceived, ends trust.

God knew betrayal lay ahead when Jesus began his journey “in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus”. Jesus began the journey anyway. Divinity embraced betrayal by trusting humanity. “He came to his own, and his own did not receive him.”

We cannot and should not trust blindly. When we see danger in a relationship, we act prudently, wisely. A battered wife leaves her spouse. An abused child finds safety away from the abuser. But with each betrayal, society as a whole is left more fragile and comes closer to complete disintegration.

So we trust. Even though we know that our trust will somewhere sometime end in betrayal, even though we trust hesitantly, carefully, still we reach out in trust. I saw a man as I walked today, standing by the road with a sign asking for help, any help. I gave $10 with a word of encouragement and an admission that I don’t understand his path at all. A small helpless act of trust. So we trust, following one who was “rich beyond all splendour, [and] all for love’s sake became poor; Thrones for a manger didst surrender, Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.”

“Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becomes poor.”

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