by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I stopped at a QuikTrip to fill my gas tank. I paid at the pump, but decided to go inside anyway to reward myself with some M&M’s.
Walking briskly and thinking I was on level ground, I was startled to find myself tumbling to the ground after stepping off an unforeseen curb. It was chilly, so my hands were in my pockets, thus I was unable to help break my fall.
Fortunately, I did not seriously harm myself physically — no broken bones, just a few aches and pains. However, I did give myself a black eye. Actually, consistent with the liturgical colors for the Advent season, it was more purple than black. The main injury was to my pride!
Our reflection this Advent on the “kerygma” invited us to ponder: If the cosmos, Earth and human beings were created by an all-loving God, and everything the Lord created was good, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? The biblical answer to that question is found in Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis with what is often referred to as the Fall Narrative.
The parents of the human race, Adam and Eve, were uniquely made in God’s image and given dominion and stewardship over the created world. They had only one limitation in the Garden of Eden: not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The devil, the father of lies, who also happens to be a fallen angel, deceived Eve into thinking that God does not really love her and Adam. Satan proposed that God forbade them to eat from this one tree because the Lord did not want them to become as smart or even smarter than him.
Adam and Eve, unlike any other of God’s earthly creatures, were given the power to choose to follow God’s plan or to ignore it — to choose the good and the noble or the bad and the ugly. God gave human beings free will, a power given to angels, but to no other worldly creature.
Tragically, our first parents rejected God as a loving Father. They rebelled against their heavenly Father who loved them into existence. In essence, the original sin was humanity’s attempt of a coup, to dethrone God and make ourselves lords of this world.
We were created as social beings. For good or bad, the choices of earthly parents have a significant impact on their children. The choices of the first parents of the human race continue to impact today their descendants by disposing us to rebel against the God who has loved us into existence.
When we push God out of our lives, it has an impact — not only on ourselves, but others. We see it in the biblical narrative, with Eve tempting Adam to join her in the rebellion, Adam blaming Eve when confronted by God, and Cain killing his brother Abel out of jealousy.
The abundance of evil and suffering in our world today is all the fruit of the fall of our first parents. Just as when we fall physically, there are inevitable consequences, such as bruises, bleeding, aches, purple eyes and sometimes even broken bones, so the spiritual fall of every sin has consequences upon the health of our souls.
One of the most amazing features of our human bodies is, after we break a bone, our bones immediately begin to heal themselves. As long as the broken bones are aligned correctly, they will eventually mend themselves, knitting the broken pieces back together.
Immediately after Adam and Eve’s fall and its tragic consequences, God shows tenderness for his bruised and aching creatures. In the Bible, God reveals gradually over time his plan for salvation.
Beginning with the rescue of Noah and his family, the call of Abraham to leave his homeland, the liberation of Moses and the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and the centuries-old saga of the Jewish people with their judges, kings and prophets, God has unfolded his plan to rescue human beings from our bondage to sin and its evil consequences.
God’s rescue mission culminated with what we commemorate this weekend: God immersing himself in our human condition with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s mercy and love. Through Our Lord’s birth, life, death and resurrection, God has forged a path for the complete healing of humanity’s brokenness. Just as broken bones, when they are set properly and fully healed, can actually become stronger than before they were fractured, Jesus has set our broken humanity aright, offering us a path to complete healing and making the bond between God and us even stronger.
It is this miracle of God’s incredible merciful love, revealed by the birth of a child in an animal shelter more than 2,000 years ago, that is the reason for this season of rejoicing.
The One born in Bethlehem does not promise his disciples that they will never experience adversity or suffering in this world. However, what he does promise is Emmanuel, God is with us. For the disciple of Jesus, we are never alone in the midst of our suffering. Jesus promises not only the forgiveness of our sins, but when we unite our suffering with his on Calvary, Our Lord will give it both purpose and power. Jesus promises peace even in the midst of the storms of life in this world.
We do not really know what the forbidden fruit was on the tree in Eden, whether it was an apple or a bag of M&M’s. However, we do know the remedy for the Fall, the babe born in Bethlehem — Jesus Christ!