One of the Reformers’ great contributions to the history of Christian faith was translation of Biblical and liturgical texts into the plain language of the people. John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther and others shared the conviction that Scripture belonged in the hands and the hearts of common people, for it was there that God sought to plant and nurture God’s truth.
As Luther translated the Apostle’s Creed into vernacular German, he used “glaube” to render the Greek and Latin references to believing and belief. The word actually comes from the proto-Germanic “ga lauban” which means “to hold dear;” literally “to love.”
At the root of our profession of faith – when we say “I believe in God the father…” – we are in truth saying I love God, I love Jesus Christ the begotten one, I love the Spirit of God that blows through the universe, and I hold the Trinity dear.
Some of the most treasured stories from the Christian narrative are of the Nativity of Jesus. We might wrestle with the disparities and differences between the Gospel accounts. We might be challenged by the historicity of various events they depict. We may even find some aspects of the stories hard to believe, in a contemporary sense. But the Christmas stories remain some of our most cherished. Through the years and seasons of life, we hold them dear. We come to love them.
In our enlightened age, believing has become entirely confounded with the idea of “mentally accepting something as true;” in religious terms, as a settled matter of doctrine. Yet in Old High German, and Saxon and Old English, this same term originally meant “trust,” even “loyalty” to an idea; a pledge of faith. To believe is to embrace truth at ever deepening levels, trusting that faith itself is a gift from God.
As we make the journey of Advent together, we will be delving deeply in these Nativity stories. We will be seeking not so much doctrinal correctness and historical factuality as re-connection with believing as “beloving.” We will embrace the old, old stories in new ways that have the power to return them to us in their original brilliance, so that we might hold them dear and share them in love.