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By Roger Salter
December 17, 2016

Once, in Paradise, you (man) were so eloquent that you gave a name to every living being; but your Creator, because of you, lay speechless, and did not even call his mother by name. You, finding yourself in a boundless estate of fruitful groves, destroyed yourself by having no regard for obedience; He, obedient, came as a mortal man, to a poor, tiny lodging that by dying He might seek the return of him who had died. You, though your were only man, wished to be God; and you were lost. He, though He was God, wished to be man that He might find what had been lost. Human pride pressed you down so that divine humility alone could lift you up.
Sermon on Christmas, Aurelius Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.)

St. Augustine sums up the plight of fallen man and the gracious provision of God by means of amazing contrasts.

Look where the story of humanity began. In Paradise. Could anything be more ideal? Look at the wasted, war-torn world we now inhabit. Most of our history is sheer misery. It is painful to read the saga of our species. Most of our fellow humans have existed in misery. What an exchange we have foolishly made.

Augustine speaks poetically of our original environment. A boundless estate of fruitful groves! We have worn our world down to vast, empty deserts and ugly wastelands.

God placed us in a garden that far excelled the concepts and designs of Capability Brown or any other famous landscapist. The land he created for us was lush and lovely and productive of every thing needful for life. But man was not content with the allotment of divine luxury.

He aspired to be more than a dependant on God's lavish generosity. He harboured in his heart the desire to be divine, "having no regard for obedience". Audacious ambition! The hubris of man is astonishing. His ingratitude horrendous.

In Greek mythology Icarus flew too close to the sun and his self-manufactured wings of feathers fastened by wax melted and his fall was fatal. Man in the loftiness of his proud heart imagined his ascent to the throne of God, usurping his sovereignty, and his fall, too, was fatal. In Adam we descended into alienation from our Maker. So great was our plunge from righteousness that we departed very far from a holy God who terrified us. Losing our spiritual union with him we became utterly lost, the willing slaves of self-will and captives of Satan. We fell from Paradise to perdition.

Pride reigns within is. It is our principal sin and the root of so much evil and human injury. Lift the mask of our decency, and look behind our civilised facade, and we are grasping for selfish satisfaction and supremacy. We do, in our heart of hearts, wish to be as God, independent of him, in charge of our lives, and masters of our fate. The devil's envious ambition to dethrone God has infected our nature. How clear it is in our own generation that we "have no regard for obedience" in private

and public life. The trends within societal leadership, that are not is accord with the will of God, are growing tyrannous by the day. Our revolt against heaven is repeated continuously to our own hurt.

So much for the pride of man and its consequences. So habitual is our arrogance that we are shocked to hear of the humility of God.

God, in the infancy of Jesus "lay speechless". He whose word alone is worth heed- ing and trusting came to us in personal silence. Before the Word spoke he mused upon our predicament and prescribed a remedy. In early life he ruminated upon our redemption decided within the mind of the Trinity.

Jesus condescended to be the tragic victim of our violation of the law of God.

As a "mortal man" he fulfilled our due obedience in his life and bore our penalty in his death. He made amends for our flagrant disobedience and on the cross atoned for our offences. "He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8), while man dared to judge him and condemn him to cruel punishment. At Calvary human loftiness of spirit was pitted against divine lowliness of spirit. Our nature clashed with the Lord's and our hostility toward him was revealed in all its noxiousness.

Unlike the Saviour we embark upon the quest for grandeur and privilege. He came to "a poor, tiny lodging". The contrast between God and man is stark. We are haughty, and for all his grandeur and glory, he is humble toward us, even as defiant rebels.

Augustine remarks upon the most poignant fact of all. God seeks the return of those who died in Adam. Our repugnance does not deter him. His redeeming purpose is relentless. Relentless enough for God to take on our form and nature to find us and perfect us through his salvation wrought through Christ the indispensable God-man - "God" for the success of his venture; "Man" for the correction of our faults and the bestowal of rectitude.

Augustine concludes with recognition of a certain truth in human experience. Pride presses us down - if not in fortune certainly in poverty of spirit and ultimate disappointment. What does a man gain if he loses his soul? Nothing compensates for our abandonment and loss of God.

And when by grace we come to our senses we marvel at the humility of God that lifts us up. Our pride is rebuked by the disposition and demeanour of the Lord Jesus. Our souls are saved by God becoming man and his Son dying in our stead.

Through our folly Paradise was lost. And through our Lord Jesus and his humiliation Paradise has been regained. Lost and found is the sum of Augustine's rumination.

Roger Salter was born and raised in Australia. He trained for the Anglican ministry at Trinity Theological College in Bristol, England from 1974 to 1979. Following ordination, he served in several parishes in the Church of England and transferred to Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. His life is enriched, and ministry supported by his Irish wife, Maurreen, his son, Alexander, and two daughters, Helen and Melanie.

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