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Hope for the earth. 1 – Peace on earth

Environmental activism and concern for the future of people and planet have grabbed the headlines many times over the last year or two. For the moment this has been totally eclipsed by Covid-19, although humanity’s abuse of the earth and wild animals seems to have played a major role in the pandemic. Issues of land and environment are also of special significance for farmers and for all living and working in rural Britain. In the light of this, Christians, especially rural believers, may be asking, ‘what does the Bible say about earth and its future and how should we respond?’. This is the first of a series of articles that address this question. The first four of these examine how pivotal events from the life of Jesus point to the Messianic Age and its significance for the earth and its future.

The proclamation of the Messianic Age is central to Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. Heaven ‘breaks open’ and angels announce peace on earth to shepherds protecting their lambs, including, presumably, from wolves. To them, ‘peace’ might mean a world where you did not have to live out in the fields in the depth of winter, and at the dead of night looking after sheep and protecting young lambs from ravenous wolves’ a world, as in Isaiah’s vision of that age to come, where “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together” (Isaiah 65:25, ESV).

With the announcement of peace is the announcement of a ‘sign’ – a baby lying in animal feeding trough! Jesus is born close to the animals, and his first visitors are a group of pastoralists. Edward Echlin, in his book, The Cosmic Circle, imaginatively reconstructs the life of Jesus in Nazareth as one that continued to be lived close to animals, farming and the land, arguing that this is why He used analogies from agriculture in His teaching more than analogies from the workshop. [1]Echlin, E P. 2004. The Cosmic Circle. Dublin: The Columba Press As the promised Messiah, Jesus inaugurates the promised age of peace on earth. This includes not only peace among people, but also with the animals and within the whole created order (Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 65:17-25).

While the picture of the shepherds protecting their livestock is indicative of the disharmony within a fallen creation, it is at the same time evocative of Adam’s original calling to tend and protect the Garden (Genesis 2:15). Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45, ESV), restores what the first Adam lost, making it possible for people and the earth to fulfil their original destiny.

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1Echlin, E P. 2004. The Cosmic Circle. Dublin: The Columba Press
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