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On the fifth day of Advent, 2021, Rev Dr Brian Kolia points to the call to ground ourselves in humility.
Out of the ground
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.
Genesis 2:8-10 NRSV
There’s perhaps nothing that depicts growth better than trees. They are nature’s way of telling us where life is present. The psalmist often refers to trees as symbols of prosperity for those who follow the Word of the Lord (see Ps 1:3). It is not surprising then that in the creation story, we find that the livelihood (and fate) of Eden’s first human inhabitants, is dependent on trees. In Gen 2:9, there are various trees and in the middle are the ‘tree of life’ and the ‘tree of knowledge.’ What is perhaps less telling, and should be highlighted, are the first few words of v.9: “Out of the ground …” These trees did not come from the skies, nor were they carried to Eden by the winds. They were planted (v.8) and came from ‘out of the ground.’ A tree of life, and tree of knowledge of good and evil, sprouted forth from the ground (adamah), the same ground from which the adam was made.
This is significant because of three things. First, the ground represents humility. In spite of the significance of these trees, they all grew from the ground – from the bottom – from a position of humility. Second, the ground implies that God got God’s hands dirty. God planted these trees and drives them into the ground (note: the Hebrew word for ‘planted’ yitta also means to ‘drive in.’) This is a different image of God compared to the transcendent and all-powerful God who creates with God’s voice in Genesis 1. Thirdly, I want to bring in the Samoan word for ‘ground’ used in the Samoan bible, which is ‘fanua.’ The word fanua, with its Pasifika equivalents of whenua (Maori), fonua (Tongan) and vanua (Fijian), is the word for ‘land’ but is also the word for ‘placenta.’ So to Pasifika people, the fanua represents the birthplace of its people, the mother of all creation. Through this perspective, God is the mother who nurtures creation through the ground, the fanua. The tree of life then is the tree which is birthed via the placenta-fanua and gives life.
As we are preparing for Christ’s birth, Gen 2:9 reminds us of where to begin: ‘out of the ground.’ This is a call to ‘ground’ ourselves in humility as we await God’s arrival into the world. We must also understand that God is prepared to get dirty hands – after all, Christ was born in a manger. Importantly, this is a call not to think highly of ourselves, but to be prepared to get our own hands ‘dirtied’ and ‘muddied’, through selfless service to others, especially those who are already ‘dirtied’ through oppression, and service to the less fortunate and marginalised. Lastly, let us reflect on the Christmas fanua – the womb of Mary who gave birth to the Messiah. While it was from God’s fanua that the tree of life emerged, it was from Mary’s fanua-placenta that the saviour of the world was born. Let us be grounded, to be humbled, to lower ourselves, to await the Messiah from the depths of each fanua we come from, and on the unceded and stolen fanua that we live on.
Rev Dr Brian Kolia is a second-generation Australian Samoan. He is a PhD candidate in Hebrew Bible at Whitley College, University of Divinity, Melbourne, Wurundjeri Country. He is an ordained minister of the Congregational Christian Church Samoa, and is also an adjunct lecturer in Old Testament at Trinity Theological College, Melbourne. He is a husband to Tanaria and a father to a 9-year old son, Elichai.
Dear Lord, remind us of the ‘ground’ that we came from, as a place of humility and compassion, as we await the birth of the humble, compassionate, and grounded Christ. Clear our minds of our own self-piety, so that we may dirty our hands for the service of others. Amen.
Photograph: Brooke Prentis, Sunset, Bunya Mountains, Wakka Wakka Country, Queensland
Visual Description: The sun is setting over the tree-covered mountains, with a Bunya Pine standing tall in the foreground on the left. Above the horizon, the sky fades from golden to blue.