In that grand epic story we know as the Bible, the story of mankind begins in a garden, a garden not actually planted by man but by his Creator. And mankind's job? To tend this garden, to care for and look after it and the creatures within it.
Whether one buys this story or shares this world view, I think it is pretty much evident to all that we as a species have the power to tend this garden we call earth either well or badly, to look after and care for its creatures either well or badly. But I digress.
In the Bible story, common to Christians and Jews and with significant modifications to Muslims as well, the first man and woman blew it, and were kicked out of the garden, and darkness fell across the earth.
The Christian "Old Testament" and the Hebrew scriptures are filled with countless direct promises and hundreds of allusions as to how this wonderful earth-garden will one day be reclaimed by the work of YHWH, the God of Israel.
Of course not everyone believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises. But whether one believes that he is or not, it is interesting that the most critical moment in Jesus' life and vocation also took place in a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. Like Adam and Eve, Jesus was tempted, tempted to take the easy way out, tempted to reach for something forbidden, tempted to bail from his calling. This was a calling that led to death by crucifixion on a cross and the deepest alienation from his Father, a death, as the Christian Scriptures put it, "for the sins of the world," a direct fulfillment of the portrait of the Suffering Servant of YHWH in Isaiah 53.
The Christian would say that the fate of the universe hung in the balance that long night of temptation and suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the New Testament story, a story that culminates in the expansive vision of the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, the end result of Jesus' long night in the Garden of Gethsemane, is, well, another garden, a restored Eden, a new heaven and new earth - in the center of which is a restored garden-city, replete with clear wonderful water, a river, trees, and fruit, like the first garden:
"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him."
And this garden-city, this earth-garden, will be the fulfillment of that first garden in Eden. It will be all that that first garden was meant to be - "the dwelling place of God with man" where "He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Had Jesus just been born in a garden and not a stable this Christmas newsletter would be perfect! :-) But he WAS born in the presence of the common beasts, with a feeding trough for a cradle, and that is close enough.
Whatever your view of Jesus and the Christian story, and however you choose to celebrate or not celebrate this time of year, I hope and pray the deepest blessings for you, for your family and loved ones, for your work and your goals now and in the next year as our beautiful and broken earth-garden hurls its way around the sun yet another time.