I was interpreting once a long time ago for a group of Deaf people at a worship service and the closing hymn was “When the Storms of Life are Raging.” The last verse said “when my life is but a burden and I’m nearing chilly Jordan” and I signed “when I become sick, burdened, near death.” “Chilly Jordan” is a symbol for death. When the Israelites crossed over the Jordan they arrived in the “Promised Land.” The “Promised Land” for us, of course, is heaven. After the service a Deaf congregant came up to me and said “why did you take away the Jordan?” I explained that when one is interpreting in American Sign Language it is translating one language into another. The truth of the text was rendered in my interpretation. The consumer countered that he wanted the exact text of the hymn. Some Deaf people prefer translation and others transliteration. It is important for the interpreter to know their audience so they sign in a way that fits their language preferences.
Perhaps the exact Latin text of the Nicene Creed is what the Roman Catholic Church is aiming at as they unveiled their updated version of the creed that will be used beginning this week. Where it used to say “I have sinned through my own fault” it now says “I have greatly sinned, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Those words are the true rendering of the original Latin, not the shortened one-liner that has been used in the past.
According to National Public Radio there has been a strong reaction to the change, some positive and some negative. I think this change, which includes an unmistakable emphasis on personal admission of sin and the gravity of sin, should give us pause to think as we enter the season of Advent. What is a more proper preparation for the coming of Christ than an admission of sin? Sin is grievous to God and it spills over into self-abuse and pain or neglect towards one’s brothers and sisters. Sin separates us from God and from people and it always leads to more sin and more separation. We are quick to excuse ourselves from our sins, minimalizing them, rationalizing them, or blaming other people. In this new Nicene Creed three times it says “my fault” so there is no getting around personal responsibility for sin. The ancient writer knew humanity’s propensity for passing the buck.
As you prepare for the coming of Christ this Christmas of 2011 and as you prepare for the coming of Christ at the end of the age, two realities that are as sure as the sun, what sins do you need to confess? What do you need to change in your life that is grieving the Lord? Make a list of those things before you write a Christmas gift list. Make amends with those you have offended before you plan a holiday party. Write a plan for living in a new and Christ-like way before you address your Christmas cards. Repentance and reconciliation is the true heart of Christmas. It is why Christ came. Through his death on the cross Jesus brings us life everlasting when we cross the “chilly Jordan” and enter the “Promised Land.”