Advent allows us the space to reflect deeply on the meaning of God’s coming revealed in the birth of Jesus. Advent occurs in our part of the world in summertime. For many, it happens as we think about the closing of one year and the beginning of another. And for people of faith, it becomes a season when we allow ourselves to enjoy the fruits of our earth: Summer fruits, outdoor events, picnics, beach moments with the splash of the ocean surf, celebrations with friends and colleagues. There is something about Advent that can connect us to Earth.
The usual gospel that is proclaimed at Christmas is the Gospel according to Luke. In Luke’s story, we hear of a pregnant couple having to travel from Nazareth, their home town, to Bethlehem, the place of David’s birth. Luke situates all this within the context of first century CE Roman imperialism. There are clear points which the evangelist wants to make. The emperor’s power and control looms in the background as this couple set off to be registered for taxation purposes. Two symbolic images focus the attention of the attentive gospel listener: the manger and the cloth wrappings.
These two details are central. They are mentioned several times throughout the narrative. The manger into which the newly born child is placed comes from Earth. The cloth wrappings which surround the child are the also the gifts of Earth. Whatever the nature of the material that comforts the child in the manger, whether wool or, more likely, linen made from flax, the wrapping comes from Earth.
At a deeper theologically symbolic level, the child born to Mary and Joseph is a child of the Earth. This intimate ecological connectedness will permeate the ministry of Jesus as it unfolds throughout the rest of Luke’s gospel, ensuring healing and salvation to all of Earth’s creatures and culminating in a death attached to Earth’s wood and a resurrection from a stone receptacle in to which his body, like at his birth, is laid.
Advent invites us to prepare for the birth of Earth’s child.
There is something deeply religious as we enjoy Earth’s fruits and events and prepare for the birth of Earth’s Child at this time of our year.
Michael is a Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Catholic Theological College, Melbourne, Australia. He was a Distinguished Academic Visitor at Vaughan Park in 2011.