Thursday, December 13, 2012

Teaching and Reflecting on Jesus' Stewardship of Earth

Our Advent devotional for this third week in Advent explores education, one of the four action areas of the Earth Care Congregations (ECCs) program. We highlight the work of Montreat Presbyterian Church, which is using education to care for creation and prepare for the coming Christ. May their work bring you hope this Advent, even as we wait with expectation, joy, and love for the Hope of the world.

Third Week of Advent
By Bill Seaman

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them. Luke 2: 8-9a

The advent and birth of Jesus offers to Christians not only a sacred annual time of reflection on the birth of a Savior, but perhaps also an opportunity to ponder God’s ongoing acts of creation and to see in them Jesus as Teacher and Steward concerning Earth. When we read that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1a), and that “He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him” (John 1:2-3a), we may wonder how indeed Jesus, in his earthly lifetime, related to what was “created” and “made.” How did the infant presented in the temple and singled out by Simeon and by Anna—to the amazement of Joseph and Mary—grow as a child and become “strong, filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40b)?

The Bible’s narration of the “Christmas story” tells us how even at the moment of birth the life of Jesus Christ was intertwined with “Creation” as manifested in the natural world and also as reflected practically in the lives of those who depended on its bounty. After all, an angel of the Lord was sent to “shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” to announce the good news of great joy of the Messiah’s birth. The shepherds certainly would have been people of the land, presumably in tune with Earth and its seasons. How might Jesus have interacted with them in childhood? Meanwhile, as Jesus learned carpentry in his youth it seems likely that experience with types of wood extended to harvest of trees in the forest, with hands-on lessons in plant and animal ecology. And certainly travel with family, all the way to Egypt even, exposed Jesus to the region’s landscapes and ecosystems.

How do we in modern times relate to Earth? In the United States, educators, physicians and social scientists are seriously concerned for the lack of time spent outdoors by children. Symptoms of so-called “nature-deficit disorder” include obesity, depression, and inability to concentrate. Two critical developmental factors, namely availability of childhood opportunities and adult mentors, afforded Jesus the foundation for a life in close communion with the outdoors. Consider his adult experiences in wilderness, on stormy waters, and in tranquil gardens, and the profound ministries connected with each of them. Certainly Jesus was neither an adult nor a “Child Left Inside!”

How do followers of Jesus afford children and adults opportunity to learn to care for Earth? Congregations across the Presbyterian Church (USA) are educating members and the community about timely environmental issues ranging from safety of water supply, food security and fair trade business, to energy conservation and simplicity of lifestyle. At Montreat Presbyterian Church in North Carolina an appointed Earth Stewardship Theologian recently taught two multi-week Christian Education classes, “Clues for a World on the Edge: Creation as the Theater of God’s Glory” and “What Shall We Eat…?” Additional ways of building biblical and scientific literacy concerning Earth care are coordinated by the church’s Earth Ministry Team, for example by arranging informative and lively programs at annual Earth Care potluck supper celebrations (with elected officials attending) and attendance/discussion at movies and lectures, such as on coal mining and climate disruption. Partnership with the nearby Montreat Conference Center affords access to outdoor facilities such as the Prayer Path, pictured below (Photograph courtesy of Phyllis Sadler, who used it in a church class on “Seeing God through the Eyes of Photography”).

We may not know the exact influence upon Jesus of the shepherds who witnessed his day of birth, but certainly their sensitivity to Creation and its seasons and limits offers guidance in following a Savior who also inspires stewardship of Earth, at Christmas and all other times of the year.

O gracious God, thank you for the birth of a Savior to our world. Please guide us in following his paths of righteousness to steward the Creation where you have placed us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

William Seaman is an ordained Presbyterian elder who resides with his wife in the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. He is Professor Emeritus, University of Florida, and in retirement consults on environmental science, leads the Earth Ministry Team of Montreat Presbyterian Church (North Carolina), and is working on certification as an environmental educator. 

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