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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Anunciation of Our Lord - The True 'Earth Day'

About 100 years after the death of the St. John, Tertullian of Carthage set about to calculate the month and day of Jesus' death. Using all the information available to him at the time, he settled on Friday, March 25, Anno Domini 29.

Whether his calculations were precisely correct or just nearly so, this date has become much more important than an early-third century attempt to date the crucifixion. It has become the cornerstone of the entire Christian calendar.

First of all, following rabbinic tradition that a prophet always dies on the date of his conception, early Christians considered that Jesus, The Prophet (Deuteronomy 18), also followed this pattern. Thus the date of Jesus' crucifixion was also understood to be the date of Jesus conception.

What a beautiful symmetry! The Savior of the world was first planted in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Then, on the very same day, the Savior of the world was planted in the womb (tomb) of the earth to await His resurrection on the Third Day.

Since we all know that human gestation is nine months, this March 25th dating of Jesus conception and burial led naturally to the church's celebration of Christmas on the 25th of December. (You can safely discard all those rumors about Christmas being nothing but a converted pagan holiday.)

Finally, since the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was conceived in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy (Luke 1:36), June 24th is also established as the Nativity of John the Baptist by Tertullian's early-third century calculations.

But that's not all... One final date is said to coincide with March 25 -- and that is the earliest possible date of all! March 25 is also considered by many of the early church fathers to be the date when Adam was formed from the dust of the ground.
So, from one calculation we have:
  • The Nativity of Our Lord (December 25)
  • The Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24)
  • The Crucifixion, Conception and Annunciation of Jesus -- and the Creation of Adam (March 25)
Given the lack of biblical evidence for these coincidences, they are best understood as a result of deep theological reflection. The first Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and now the second Adam likewise becomes dust in the womb of the Virgin. As the Psalmist says, "Truth shall spring out of the earth..." (Psalm 85:10). And, of course, Jesus is "the Truth" (John 14:6).

Today is a day to reflect more deeply on the importance of Jesus' incarnation. And as we reflect on the incarnation, do not fail to note that Adam was created from the dust of the earth in order to have Dominion over the earth. Accordingly, God's assumption into flesh was simultaneously God's assumption of dust itself. And God's redemption of humanity is also God's redemption of His entire creation. As St. Paul said, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).

Today ecology has become the new religion. And it's central tenet is that humans are the scourge of the earth. By this way of thinking, the planet will only be saved by minimizing man's foot-print on the planet. This neopagan religion brings with it birth control, abortion, euthanasia and a calloused disregard for human life in all kinds of situations.

But this new religion runs directly counter to Jesus. In Him we find that the planet's salvation depends entirely upon this Man who is the Incarnate God. Salvation does not come by minimizing His impact on the world but by maximizing it -- just as originally, creation was not lessened by the creation of Adam. Rather, the work of God was not deemed "VERY good" until the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:31). Nor is Jesus' impact on the world is now relegated to some "spiritualized"  realm; but He is still available in His flesh and blood in His Church on earth -- where men and women are baptized into His Body and where His Body and Blood are given and received.

One of my favorite pieces of art is a 12th century mosaic in the apse of the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. In its center, the cross of Jesus is thrust into the ground like a sword and at the place where it pierces the earth, shoots forth a vine of wild and uncontainable growth. The New Creation spurts forth where Jesus is planted in the earth.

The sin of the first Adam caused the ground itself to be cursed (Genesis 3:17). Again, Cain's murder of His brother meant that he would be "cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood" (Genesis 4:11). The incarnation of God as a Man from the dust of the ground sets about to restore the ground itself to its original fertility. And the blood of the second Adam renews not only all of mankind, but the very earth itself which drinks it in!

Thus, March 25th is the Christian Earth Day.
  • On it we do not celebrate the earth goddess, Gaea; but we celebrate the Virgin Mother, Mary.
  • We do not seek ways of lessening the impact that man has upon the environment. We, rather, rejoice that Christ's redemption of mankind is, itself, the repair of the environment.
  • We do not solve problems by destroying human beings conceived by God, but we rejoice that by Jesus' own conception, He has made conception and childbearing salutary (1 Timothy 2:15).

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