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Christmas: the larger picture

Fr. Leo Pabayo

IN one “Simbang Gabi” before Christmas, the church goers are treated to an unusual Gospel reading. It is the reading of the family tree or genealogy of Jesus. A Mass goer may find the reading of names monotonous and send him back to sleep. However, if he is told about the purpose of this genealogy he may find it very interesting especially if he has had some acquaintance with the life stories of those named in this genealogy and the roles they played in preparing the world for the coming of the Savior. This genealogy gives us some idea of how the story of salvation developed.

The story of the salvation of mankind is a history of actual people and events. Myths and parables get intertwined in these events. But these are merely used as literary props to help bring out the meaning of the historical events especially in the light of the faith in God of the people involved in these events.

This genealogy is therefore really the story of salvation presented to us in terms of the names of real people who figure in this story. They are those who were been graced with the offer of salvation that started with Abraham. Their stories culminated in the birth of Jesus who is the Messiah whom they longed and prepared for. The story of Christmas therefore has a very long history behind it.

The story of the salvation of man really started with Abraham because it was Abraham who rediscovered God or was blessed with faith in God that man lost after he sinned. He is rightly considered the father of faith in God. Long before him our first parents had the chance to believe in God but they failed the test of believing and trusting in God. In other words they sinned.

The Book of Genesis, tells us that the first sin of our first parents or the original sin was an act of not trusting or having faith in God.

Man and woman did not believe God when he told them not to eat of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they will die. What was this tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

According to renowned Bible scholar, Bruce Vawter, in ancient times certain trees were considered as symbolic of certain spiritual realities or powers that people believed in. The Book of Genesis tells us of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Man was told by God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We can guess what that meant in general. It meant that it is not totally up to man to decide what is good and bad, true or false, beautiful and ugly, in this life. He has to heed to God’s wisdom on this.

The Book of Genesis tells us that man and woman did not heed God. They disobeyed God and ate of that tree, that is, they decided that it is totally up to them to decide what is good and evil, unmindful of God.

An analogy might help in understanding this. The man who wants to be the one to totally determine what is right or wrong, good and bad, etc. is like a man who puts himself on top of a very high tree where he wants jump from and fly without due consideration of the will of God as imprinted in the law of nature like the law of gravity. He decides that it is totally up to him to figure that out as he is falling down.

In a sense, the Book of Genesis teaches that man and woman are forbidden to engage in such kind of foolishness or they would cause disorder in the world of nature and in their understanding of how things work in this world.

The Book of Genesis says that man and woman disobeyed and their disobedience resulted in the loss of a sense of God. It resulted also in the loss of a sense of what is right or wrong, good and bad, true and false, etc. leading ultimately to his death. How long this lasted is unknown to us.

In those dark years in the life of man, God was however, never absent and was continually taking the initiative to get man to hear him again and to trust and believe again. The promise of salvation was hinted at in those verses in the Book of Genesis in which God says to the serpent, the symbol of the power of evil the tempted man to sin,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) (to be continued)


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