We heard an interesting story on breakfast radio this morning. Bobby Charlton was due to welcome twenty six of the thirty three rescued Chilean miners to Old Trafford this evening, as guests of honour at Manchester United’s match against Arsenal.
Sir Bobby’s father was a miner in Northumberland. My colleague pointed out that this was probably also the profession of his grandfather, great grandfather, great great grandfather and so on – the invite to the Chilean miners was based on a loyalty to and awareness of his roots, where he had come from, who he was.
The genealogy in Matthew only goes back as far as Abraham, but the one in Luke 3 traces Jesus’ roots all the way back to Adam (and from there to God) – to the first story that there ever was. The story of creation and the fall has become a difficult one, tangled up in debates of creationism and Darwinism, science and faith, literal and figurative truth, mythology and fact. But strip that away and perhaps the story of Adam and Eve can shed a fresh light on the Christmas story and all that followed…
The picture of Eden in Genesis is the image of creation as God intended it to be, unbroken, harmonious, good. When human beings are created God gives them sovereignty over creation, but it’s not a sovereignty of power and control – man is placed in the garden to care for it and to work it rather than to rule and to master.
When God sees that it is not good for man to be alone, he reveals himself as a God of relationship and creates woman. She is created as a partner for man, a helper who is right for him, and they live in harmony with one another, with creation and with God.
Yet over the centuries, this story of wholeness and accord has been used as evidence to justify man’s supremacy over the rest of creation, including woman – is that really what’s going on here?
The creation story is told twice in Genesis in quick succession. When humans are created in Genesis 1, God commissions them to be masters of the earth, to rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves. Perhaps, reading that, it’s a natural assumption to make that we are special, set apart from the rest of creation in a position of prominence and importance, more highly valued than anything else.
But the account in Genesis 2 reveals a different way of viewing this mastery of creation as God places Adam in the garden of Eden to take care of the land, to work it. I’m not an agricultural expert (I can’t even keep houseplants very successfully!) but the little I do know suggests that working the land involves careful tending, coaxing, nourishing, nurturing, to enable it to fulfil its potential – which reminds me of how God works with us. So doesn’t it make sense if that is the role God gives to us within creation, we who are made in God’s image as nurturers, bringing potential into fulfilment?
When God creates Eve, there is no suggestion that she is made to be subservient to Adam. They are partners, just right for one another. Though God makes woman from man, she is made from man’s rib, taken from his side to stand by his side, equal. It is only as a consequence of the fall that their roles are separated, woman given the burden of painful childbirth and man the burden of working the ground hard for food – both direct consequences of breaking the harmonious relationship between humans and creation.
And it is only with the breaking of creation that the struggle for supremacy as we know it enters the world, whether in the battle for power within humankind or in the domination of nature and the exploitation of the environment that we are now challenged to do something about. It is hard for us, from this post-fall perspective, to truly understand what a world without this struggle would be like – but the birth of Jesus makes it possible for us to begin working back towards that world.
When God is preparing to send his son into the world, he invites Joseph and Mary, man and woman, equally to be part of his plan. And as Jesus grows and begins his ministry, he is remarkable within his culture because he accepts all equally – not just women, but the poor, the sick, the outsiders, the sinners. Jesus lives in relation to others as though creation were never broken, empowering those he meets not to raise themselves above others but to fulfil their own potential.
In the Christmas story, in the birth of Jesus, God opens the path to restoration – not just of our own relationship with him, but of the whole of creation. Through his life on earth, Jesus shows us how to live to bring about that restoration. Through his death and resurrection, he provides the restoration of our relationship with God, making it possible to live that different kind of life.
Jesus understood his roots. He understood that way back in time, his ancestors, Adam and Eve, had experienced the wholeness of unbroken creation. And he longed for the rest of humankind to experience that again. Every time we follow his example, working towards equality, valuing those who lose in the battle for power – the poor, the weak, the voiceless – and every time we follow Adam and Eve’s early example, caring for creation and honouring the role that God gave us, maybe we do a little bit of kingdom work and bring that restoration a step closer…