Eve of the Nativity.A.22
The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley
This past week I was busy running errands and I passed by a house festooned with Christmas decorations sporting a large yellow sign with blue hand-written letters, spelling the word “Believe”. The sign comes from the Emmy-award winning show ‘Ted Lasso’. And it made me smile.
The premise of the show, which streams on Apple TV, is this. An underdog and inexperienced American Coach, Ted Lasso, is invited to coach an English Premier Soccer Leage team, AFC Richmond by the club’s new owner, Rebecca Welton. Rebecca’s sole motive in finding a coach is to ruin the the team in order to spite her ex-husband who loves the club dearly. Ted Lasso has no experience coaching a soccer team, much less living in England, and appears to be the perfect foil to bring the team to disaster.
But Rebecca’s plans fail when Ted Lasso, through his charm and dedication thrives as a coach and brings a new spirit to the game. Ted’s optimism and zeal towards the game, and particularly its players, overcomes a multitude of obstacles. Ted Lasso is a man who is hopeful with a strong belief in the word “believe.” So much so that he writes it on a piece of yellow paper and tapes it above the locker room door.
“Believe”. It’s a word many people associate with Christmas. It conjures up thoughts of Santa and sleighs, but also the potential of humanity’s goodness and notleastwise, that baby in the manger who is Christ the Lord. Believe.
On Christmas Eve, it seems particularly fitting to consider a word so essential to this season of hope. The root of the word “believe” simply means “to give one’s heart to.” It stands to reason, then, that if we can determine what it is to which we give our heart, then we will know what it is we believe. But here is something more to consider, from the biblical scholar and theologian Marcus Borg who writes:
“Prior to the seventeenth century, the word “believe” did not mean believing in the truth of statements or propositions…. Grammatically, the object of believing was not statements and ideas, the object of belief was a person. Moreover, the contexts in which it is used in premodern English make it clear that it meant: to hold dear; to prize; to give one’s loyalty to; to give one’s self to; to commit oneself. (To believe) meant…faithfulness, allegiance, loyalty, commitment, and trust. Most simply, “to believe” meant “to love.” (Ted Lasso, I think, would agree. Borg continutes) Indeed, the English words “believe” and “belove” are related. What we believe is what we belove. Faith is about beloving God…. To believe in God is to belove God. Faith is about beloving God and all that God beloves.” To believe is to love.
This understanding can be problematic for modern ears. We live in a word where when we ask people what they believe, quite frequently what we really mean is “what do you think?” Believe, for many of us is not a matter of the heart, but resides somewhere in the head. Yet it seems to me that those of earlier generations than our own had it right. Belief is most closely linked to love, and therefore it is most rightly understood in terms of relationships. Consider the depth this adds to our connections with others when we look at another person and say “I believe in you.”
Consider these verses from our Savior from the Gospel of John: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And the disciples respond by saying: “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
The Scriptures tell us that this holy infant Jesus, whose birth came to pass that first Christmas Day, is the love of God incarnate. On a purely intellectual level, how can we know this? How can we be sure? In truth, there is no reason given that cannot be denied or contradicted in some fashion. Instead, what we are presented with is a challenge. And that challenge is the person of Jesus. For it is Jesus who claimed to set up God’s kingdom, to be its centre, to represent the Creator of the world to speak with the authority of the Divine and he demanded the utmost devotion and obedience from those who followed him. All this is true. And, at the same time, this Jesus is the one who manifested throughout His life love without reserve, a devotion which knew no limits, and a compassion which embraced all people, so much so that those who lived with him and knew him best could find no words to describe him short of divine. In the person of Jesus, we are presented with a challenge to believe.