Ancestors, Ancestral Sin and Christ

The Sunday before the Nativity in Orthodoxy celebrates all of the righteous men and women of the Old Testament who prepared the way for Christ.  They are commemorated in the Gospel lesson of the genealogy of Christ.  The genealogy tells us how we got to the point of Christ’s birth, but the genealogy also reminds us about why we have come to Christ’s birth.  For even before Abraham was, humanity had taken a stance on its relationship to God our Creator.  It is humanity’s broken relationship with God which Christ came to heal and repair.  The ancestors of Christ point to Christ (thus leading us back to God), but also are the link to the ancestral sin which separated humanity from God.  St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes:

The case of Adam, however, had no analogy with this, but was altogether different. For, having been beguiled by another under the pretext of immortality, he is immediately seized with terror, and hides himself; not as if he were able to escape from God; but, in a state of confusion at having transgressed His command, he feels unworthy to appear before and to hold converse with God. Now, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” the sense of sin leads to repentance, and God bestows His compassion upon those who are penitent. For [Adam] showed his repentance by his conduct, through means of the girdle [which he used], covering himself with fig-leaves, while there were many other leaves, which would have irritated his body in a less degree.

He, however, adopted a dress conformable to his disobedience, being awed by the fear of God; and resisting the erring, the lustful propensity of his flesh (since he had lost his natural disposition and child-like mind, and had come to the knowledge of evil things), he girded a bridle of continence upon himself and his wife, fearing God, and waiting for His coming, and indicating, as it were, some such thing [as follows]: Inasmuch as, he says, I have by disobedience lost that robe of sanctity which I had from the Spirit, I do now also acknowledge that I am deserving of a covering of this nature, which affords no gratification, but which gnaws have retained this clothing for ever, thus humbling himself, if God, who is merciful, had not clothed them with tunics of skins instead of fig-leaves.   (Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. Loc. 5005-15)

Adam covered himself with fig leaves because he felt ashamed in his nakedness before his Creator.  Irenaeus interprets Adam’s behavior as penitence for his sin – Adam doesn’t want God to have to look upon what Adam has done.  Adam knows he has lost the ‘garment of sanctity’ with which God had clothed him.  But at Christmas we celebrate God putting on our flesh, accepting the nakedness of Adam as He is born a baby in Bethlehem.  Not ashamed of his body, Christ knows His body means death but He unites Himself to our flesh to give us eternal life.  The ‘garment of salvation’ which Christ put on Himself is our flesh.  God became human, put on flesh, so that we humans could once again share in God’s life.  In putting on the flesh, Christ robes Himself in majesty, restoring all things to their proper place in God’s creation.

Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  (2 Corinthians 5:2-5)