09 December 2008

Fatherly Wisdom: Reversing & Reclaiming Eden

In St. Louis one often sees billboard signs advertising some business that will buy old, ugly, run-down homes in order to renovate them and then, presumably, to resell them for a good profit. One such billboard even says, "Ug buys ugly houses," with "Ug" being the cute, furry, "Cousin It" type of a mascot (or at least ad gimmick) for that particular business. Reclaiming old homes in order to renovate them must be good business in older cities with run down areas, and it certainly has the benefit of bringing beauty out of ugliness.

Such an act of reclamation aptly illustrates the great truth we celebrate on Christmas. As we prepare for Christmas (yes, it's still Advent; yes, we're still preparing; save the real celebrating for "ChristMass" and its Twelve Days!), we prepare to celebrate not just a heartwarmingly familiar story of a cute little baby. Nor do we gather on Christmas Eve/Day merely to sing our good ol' favorite Christmas songs with family and friends. While such hearing and singing is certainly meet, right and salutary, Christmas gives us so much more. It gives us God's very own "reclamation project" for all of humanity and all of creation.

Our Lord Jesus Christ took on our human flesh and blood, bones and organs, reason and senses--became incarnate--in order to reverse the grave tragedy we know as the Fall into sin and death in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). Our Lord's Incarnation had a particular purpose: to reverse the effects of the Fall in Eden and to reclaim us and His whole creation and bring us back to life with Him. Now that's something to hear, treasure, and sing about!

Here's St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (ca. 202) on how our Lord's coming in the flesh both reverses and reclaims (my words) Eden, that is, God's creation and us, the crown of His creation (and I love the various connections and parallels):
The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.

As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.

Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed and trampled on the head of the one who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam, in accordance with God’s words to the serpent in Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”

The one lying in wait for the serpent’s head is the one who was born in the likeness of Adam from the Virgin. This is the seed spoken of by Paul in the letter to the Galatians: “The law of works was in force until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” He shows this even more clearly in the same letter when he says: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” The enemy would not have been defeated fairly if the vanquisher had not been born of a woman, because it was through a woman that the enemy had gained mastery over humanity in the beginning, and set himself up as the adversary.

That is why the Lord proclaims himself the Son of Man, the one who renews in himself that first person from whom the human race was formed; as by one person’s defeat our race fell into the bondage of death, so by another’s victory we were to rise again to life.

(Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, 5, 19, 1; 20, 2; 21, 1; SC 153, 248-250, 260-264, as cited in J. Robert Wright, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, p. 11-12.)

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