This is no mere Christianity. This is the story we welcome into a manger and receive from the tomb. This is what we remember every day.
“I can’t believe how many children there are here,” I leaned and whispered to my husband. We were visitors at a church whose smallest members were helping with the service that morning. A young girl, no more than 8, stood at the front of the altar beside the minister. As she began to speak, her voice echoed the eagerness that her countenance gave away. “Join me in saying the Apostles’ Creed,” she said with a tone that caused me to heed the invitation differently:
I believe God made the world, the sky, the stars, the animals, and all the people in the world. I believe that God’s Son, Jesus, came into the world from heaven. That’s what we remember on Christmas.
Thus began the Apostles’ Creed reworded for children, and in these almost familiar lines were the tenents of the Christian faith, the reminder of all that Christians remember from Christmas to Easter. The little girl’s voice rose above the sounds of a congregation speaking in unison. She was clearly excited by the assignment she had been given. She seemed equally excited by the words of the Creed, the statements of belief shared with the very adults she was leading. It was a creed led in such a way as to remind everyone present that the call of Christ is one a child can answer. The substance to Christian hope is a simple, though profound, reality.
The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, meaning, “I believe.” When asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response was his creed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”(1) The earliest creeds were used as baptismal vows, affirmations of belief in God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For persons standing on the precipice of faith, the creed was the statement with which they prepared themselves to jump, and in so doing, found they had been given something on which to stand. As Martin Luther noted of the Apostles’ Creed, the most common of ancient confessions, “Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”
In dire contrast to this ancient attempt to develop concise affirmations of Christian belief is the call among us for a simplified faith that lessens the significance of Jesus’s birth, life, and death, while focusing more on the responsibility his life imparts. Whether or not he was really born or buried, whether he was fully human and fully divine is thought nonessential; the obligation to respond, the need to build relationships, the call to follow, is considered more important. The creeds say so much more than this. Christmas and Easter say so much more than goodwill and forgiveness.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the affirmation is given that faith gives substance to our hopes and makes certain the realities we do not see. Those who first said “credo” did so with the assurance that their lives were dramatically about to change. They were saying in these vows that their beliefs were worth the chance of persecution, suffering, and even death. In their confession of faith was the conviction that what is true is of greater substance than fear or self. They went to their baptisms knowing that the birth, life, and death of Christ was the hope on which they must live and die and believe.
The lines of the Apostles’ Creed, the mere Christianity that men, women, and children continue to stand on, repeat this stirring hope and sounding joy:
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell, and on the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
This is no mere Christianity. This is the story we welcome into a manger and receive from the tomb. This is what we remember on Christmas and every day after.
(1) See Matthew 16:15-16.