This week, I’m meditating on a few particular aspects of the Advent event. I’m thinking through and writing about how, in Jesus, God inhabited our creaturely form, care-taking function, comprehensive fallenness, and communal formation.
As I said in the teaching I gave over the summer about the Nature and Narrative of the Bible, the opening chapters of the Bible describe this divine act of creating in very architectural terms; the same words are later used in describing the building of the tabernacle and the temple. In this we see that God’s act of creating was, in essence, building this world as his temple in which he would rest (for more on this see John Walton’s amazing book, The Lost World of Genesis One, or just watch this short video).
In the story, he builds and establishes this Temple-World, and then creates and ordains two priests–Adam and Eve–to be his representatives in this temple to care for it and work in it faithfully. In the ancient world, temples were usually placed in the midst of large and beautiful gardens which acted as extensions of the temple itself; to care for the garden was to care for the temple, and to make the garden larger was to expand the scope and size of the temple.
This helps us make sense of God’s original call to his primal humans to have dominion over this world that God had made and to continue to “subdue it”. In essence, he was telling them to care for and cultivate this Garden-World and to expand it to expand the reign and harmony of his Temple-World.
But that did not happen. According to the story, people misused this garden for themselves. They were living in the temple of God and took one of the items in this temple that was meant only for God (the knowledge of good and evil) and tasted this sacred object for themselves. They tried to become the god of the temple in which they were supposed to be priests. They upended the harmonious order and usurped their right as priests in this temple and so were expelled.
But that’s not the end of the story. Even then, God moves toward his creatures and creation in the midst of this “Fall”, declaring that he will take the responsibility in initiating the plan to make things right. In those first moments of shame, embarrassment, and “nakedness”, God moves into the human story and not away from it.
And in the Coming of Jesus that we celebrate this season, we see the fulfillment of this plan of restoration. We see a God who sees how we have failed our original care-taking function and ordination as his creatures and he comes into our reality and lives this out for us, caring for his creatures and creation in the way that he has intended humanity to do.
But this goes much farther than some simplistic idea of ” Christian environmentalism” that many others take from this part of the story. Jesus shows us that “care-taking” of his world and his creatures is first and foremost a matter of justice and restoration.
In his Advent, Jesus does lots of miracles, but his miracles are particular in nature and function. None of his miracles are weird. You have no lasers coming out of people’s eyes, no shape-shifting, no invisibility, etc. What you have is a God that comes and ushers in the future world to come and brings it into the present.
In other words, all of his miracles are restoring things to the way they will be and are intended to be; they are acts of justice. People were not meant to be blind, or die, or go hungry, or be handicapped, or be sick. And so he ushers in this future reality into the present by healing these things. The future world begins with a wedding feast with much wine, and so his messianic mission begins with turning water to wine at a wedding feast.
In the book of John, Jesus is described as “tabernacling” among us. In other words, he is like the temple of God now dwelling with us. And so, wherever he was, he was both that Temple in the Garden of this world and it’s Priest, subduing the world and bringing about the flourishing that existed inside this “temple” and letting us in the Garden-World taste of this fruit in a way that brought justice, healing, and restoration. He ultimately dies on a “tree of life” in response to our tasting of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.
Advent shows us that life as we live it now is not necessarily “natural”, and what Jesus did on earth was not necessarily “super-natural”. What Jesus did was inhabit the world, taking on our function to expand the way things were “naturally” supposed to be. The Advent teaches us that much of our lives are lived “sub-naturally” and in Jesus is found true, “natural” living. True human and creational flourishing and life.
And so, may we see this God as the One who has come as our temple, our priest, our gardener, and has come in our stead to bring about a world woven with justice, equity, care, and worship. The way of Nature and the way of Grace may not be so far off from each other.