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William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
Christmas 'Credo'
Published: December 18, 2023 03:37 AM
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Performers wearing angel costumes walk on stilts during a Christmas angels' parade on Dec. 17 in Prague, Czech Republic

Performers wearing angel costumes walk on stilts during a Christmas angels' parade on Dec. 17 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo: AFP)

In 1971, MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers by Leonard Bernstein commissioned by the widow of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, premiered as part of the dedication of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

The piece juxtaposes prayers from the Latin Mass with contemporary meditations in English. Half a century has passed, but many, if not all, of the reflections remain relevant today.

As Christmas approaches, the response to the Creed’s et homo factus est (and was made man) can help us go beyond a saccharine Christmas card image of the Incarnation we celebrate on the feast.

In Bernstein’s work, the response to the Latin phrase is sung in English by a young man and is called Non Credo (I do not believe).

You, God, chose to become a man, to pay the earth a small social call.

I tell you, sir, you never were a man at all.

Why?

You had the choice when to live, when to die, and then become a god again.

....

But when I go, then will I become a god again? Probably no.

Give me a choice. I never had a choice, or I would have been a simple tree, a barnacle in a silent sea, anything but what I must be:

A man

A man

A man!

....

I don’t know why I should live if only to die.

Well, I’m not gonna buy it!

Trees and barnacles have one “advantage” over us human beings: though they too die they do not know about it. Even creatures more brainy than plants and crustaceans do not anticipate their demise. They simply die without having to deal with death as an eventuality that can color every moment of their existence. We humans appear to be the only animals who know that the story of each of us, including me, has an end.

While we cannot become literal barnacles, we can do so figuratively. We can and do try to insulate ourselves from the realization of our end. We numb our minds with vapid “entertainment.” We use drugs, drink, and food to “fill” feelings of emptiness. We diet and exercise to convince ourselves that we can stave off death. We chase after prestige, wealth, and power so we can pretend that we are too important to die. Like the singer, our anthem is, “Well, I’m not gonna buy it!”

But as the singer complains, “I never had a choice.” Whether we “buy” it or not, to be alive means inevitably to die. And to be death-bound with awareness is, as he admits, to be human. And we do not like it.

What has that to do with Christmas? Well, the song says, “You, God, chose to become a man.” God chose the realm of death, chose to be born with us, live with us, die with us. That is the point of our Christmas celebration. The carol We Three Kings reminds us of that with its words, “Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Christmas is not just about a baby born once upon a time in a land far, far away. It is about how the place to encounter God is in the life we live, a life under the shadow of death. All our fearful attempts to avoid recognizing that fact draw us away from God whose embrace of the cross is our salvation. God has joined us in death, and so we can have hope that we will join God in Life.

St. Paul reminds us, “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5).

There is, however, no need to chase after death or its “cousins” — the failures, loneliness, disappointments, ailments, confusions, misunderstandings, aging and such that show that I am not in charge. They all come to me.

Christmas answers the young singer’s and our reluctance to accept all that it means to be human. God has done it, and so long as we can trust God, we can do it, too. We will never be alone.

The singer ends his song with “I’ll never say credo / How can anybody say credo? / I want to say credo.”

Whether reluctantly or expectantly, we too want to say credo, I believe.

At Christmas, we look at the one born to experience all the joys and pains of being human and who in it all said credo. Christmas invites us to say the same.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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