“We shouldn't be surprised that innocence frightens us. We fear innocence because we fear being humble instruments of God. So we will not serve. Why? Because we fear the loss of our freedom. But didn't the God-man tell us, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free"? Yet we fear the truth because we don't want to give up our slavery to sin.”
Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children killed by the order of King Herod, to whom it was foretold that a child - the Christ - would become King of the Jews. To eliminate what he saw as his rival for the throne, Herod ordered that all Jewish boys of a tender age would be slain. Joseph was warned of this and fled into Egypt, thereby saving the Christ Child's life.
I spent yesterday with children - mine and two other friends, at Dollywood. To them, it was a fun vacation day. To me, it was something more. I was spending the day watching my children, silently giving thanks to the Lord for their presence. At one point in my life, such a gift would not – was not – within my comprehension.
I have been thinking about the Incarnation – really, Christmas is not the celebration of His Birth as we know birth to be in human terms, but a continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation, begun when the Virgin Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit. That Christ was present even then cannot be disputed – at Mary’s visit to her kin, Elizabeth, the child John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb for joy at the presence of his Savior. And indeed, Jesus cannot be “born” as He always was and will always be – instead, fully divine, He takes on flesh and becomes fully human, and Christmas is the culmination of that process. Our God so loves us that He assumes our lowly forms and walks among us.
My reading led me to the quoted passage above. Taken from a Christmas homily in 2009, it speaks to the loss of innocence, an innocence of absolute trust in God and the ability to face His truth without fear, and how Christ came – in His Incarnation – to restore us to that innocence.
If I am one thing, I can be overly cynical at times. All too often, I can dismiss someone as being “naïve” or “simple”. They just don’t understand “the rules”; they don’t see the world as I do, self-assured and “tougher” than they are. At such times, I must remember to stop and ask myself, am I playing Herod? Am I “killing” innocence rather than check my cynicism and my pride and simply trust in the Truth that is Christ?
I recently wrote a letter to a friend, telling them of my fears at what may be conduct on their part leading to mortal sin. I do not think I was being judgmental, but what I did do was describe to them conduct that would lead me to withhold my gift of friendship and amity – no, I would not stop loving them but while love is unconditional, that is not the same as being without consequences.
Sometimes, in my practice of law, a client might ask, “When should I not allow [the other parent] to take the child for a visit?” when there is a fear of harm. I would ask them, “Well, would you let the child go if the other parent arrived at your doorstep falling down drunk?” “Of course not!” they would exclaim. Then I would “lessen” the egregious nature of the other parent’s behavior so that they could see there is a time when consequences to someone’s behavior are not appropriate . . . and a point where they become so, and so action such as not allowing visitation may be in order.
So too is it for us in our relationships with others. “Turning the other cheek” does not mean becoming a punching bag. Surely, I would not expect any Christian to disparage a woman – especially one with minor children – for leaving a husband who is an abusive alcoholic. She may still love him; even in her anger, perhaps subconsciously, she may still retain a love for the fact that they conceived children together. But that does not mean her love must be sacrificed to his decision to act in a certain way. And so certain physical manifestations of her love – the conjugal act, maintaining a household together – are foregone to ensure her and her children’s safety – or, if you will, their innocence.
“After the fall, Adam and Eve lost their innocence. So they were ashamed of themselves and fearful of God. They were alienated from each other and alienated from God Himself. They blamed each other and insisted that the ‘devil made them do it’. They were not to blame; they were not accountable; they would not accept responsibility for their disobedience. And so they and all of us after them unleashed a maelstrom of evil that continues and intensifies. Nations suffered and continue to suffer; nations bled and continue to bleed; nations died and continue to die in their sins.”
“But God refuses to abandon us. He renewed His covenant with His people again and again. The covenant with Noah, with Abraham and Moses would be renewed in different ways. But the covenant would be the same: an agreement, plain and simple. With God as one of the parties, the covenant became an unbreakable agreement between God and man. It reads simply, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people..." (Jer. 7:23). Innocence is restored through obedience: Worship the one God; keep holy the Sabbath; do not kill or commit adultery or steal; do not lie. Reasonable enough terms. But terms so easily ignored.”
“So in the fullness of time, God sent His only begotten Son into the world. Jesus Christ came into the world to restore man to innocence, and to restore the divine intimacy lost by sin. And He tells us throughout the Gospel to ‘be not afraid.’"
“The truth is, the child Jesus, in His person, is the perfect covenant between God and man and He shows us the way. And so the ‘Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’. Man has received a transfusion of innocence.”
As we approach the New Year, we should remember that we are still in the Christmas season and, to use the metaphor above, are still receiving that transfusion of innocence. This is why the New Year is a time of making resolutions – hopefully, we do a self-examination to determine where our innocence has been lost or may be threatened, by ourselves or by others. It is easy to say God comes first; it is hard to place Him there, especially if it means having to face someone we love and modify our manifestation of that love, perhaps from being in an on-going relationship with them to simply praying for their soul. But we cannot abandon God to human sentimentality because in doing so, we corrupt our innocence with God.
At one time my innocence was lost. I spent my life in a dissolute manner and God was more than pushed into second place, He was abandoned by me. But He never abandoned me. In time, through His grace, my innocence was restored . . . and, with time, led me to a chilly day in the Smokey mountains, enjoying the winter sun with children borne of a loving marriage. My daughter conquered her fears of riding any roller coaster that went upside down yesterday, while I affirmed by conquest over a fear of setting aside cynicism and embracing the innocence of trust in Christ Jesus.
In my letter to my friend, I set out a detailed history of a time in my life when I lived without that innocence, in hopes of explaining to them why my fears for them were such as they are and begging my friend’s forgiveness if I mistakenly maligned their character by letting them know of my concern. In doing so, I considered the possibility that they may tell me to go screw myself in their indignation at what they could perceive as a lack of trust in them – or, really, a lack of “unconditional” love. So be it. My love – philos, agape, and eros – for any person is precious if grounded in the innocence of Christ. It must be protected and I am failing to do so if I provide someone with the benefits they enjoy or expect from it if their behavior mocks that innocence.
Christ was incarnated, Christ suffered, Christ died, and Christ rose again all to reconcile sinners to God. I cannot sacrifice that gift to someone’s feeling, self-esteem, or weakness. This is not to say I expect perfection from a person, but I expect them to “walk the walk” and seek my assistance, if needed . . . and help me to do so as well should my innocence become corrupted.
King Herod is dead. Long live the King of Kings!