12/24/2018 9:29:33 AM
The Reason for the Season - December 23, 2018
Text: Genesis 4:1,2,6-8,25-5:5
Dear Friends in Christ, to some degree its always been this way, but for the last few decades there seems to be an increasingly concerted effort to remove just about any religious element from the way in which our nation acknowledges Christmas, starting with the name itself. What used to be office Christmas parties have become “holiday” parties. What used to be Christmas breaks at non-religious schools have become winter breaks. Whether spoken or written, the common greeting of “Merry Christmas” has given way to the more neutral “happy holidays.” Even Christmas trees are referred to as holiday trees. This trend has not gone unnoticed and has created something of a mild backlash among those who understand that you can change the name or the emphasis or the focus of an event, but you can’t deny the event itself. In this unofficial “reclaim Christmas” movement, one of the more popular and catchy slogans seen on bumper stickers and lapel pins and Christmas cards is the phrase, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Which, of course, is true. But our text for today drills down even deeper and explains for us why Jesus’ arrival on our planet was necessary in the first place. What becomes clear is that, in another sense, we – as in all of mankind – are THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.
Before we take a closer look and establish why this is an appropriate section of God’s word to consider on this final Sunday in Advent, let’s see how it fits into the big picture laid out in the first three chapters of the very first book of the Bible, Genesis.
Chapter 1 starts out with the grand declaration: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and tells us how in six days God created the world and everything in it “ex nihilo” – Latin for “out of nothing.” Chapter 2 gives us a closer look at day six and the creation of Adam and Eve, the first human beings and the crown of God’s creation. Everything is perfect.
Then comes chapter 3, sometimes referred to as the saddest chapter in the Bible. Here we witness Adam and Eve’s disobedience to the single command God had given them. Their actions changed everything. The perfect relationship between God and man was now lost and broken. Sin and death entered the world. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden.
Life apart from God now and forever would have been the way things stayed. But God is merciful. Rather than consigning Adam and Eve to the death spiral they had brought upon themselves, he provided a plan to undo the consequences of sin. The plan involved “the offspring of a woman” who would reestablish the relationship with God that sin had broken. In other words, a Savior would someday be born who would reverse the curse.
This leads into chapter 4. Here is where we pick up our text. Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Life is changed, but life goes on. Eve gives birth to two sons. (Sidebar: Adam and Eve had additional children as mentioned in chapter 5, but these are the two in particular God wants us to know about.) The older is named Cain, the younger, Abel.
It is interesting to note that according to the original Hebrew of the Old Testament another way to translate Eve’s statement is this: “I have brought forth a man, the LORD.” Understood this way suggests that perhaps Eve thought her firstborn son was in fact the Savior (“the LORD”) God had promised. As we shall soon see, Cain was anything but.
In the verses that follow we learn that both Cain and Abel gave offerings to the Lord. Sadly, the motivation and attitude behind Cain’s was unsatisfactory to God, and God called him out on that. Sadder yet is that God’s warning did not make Cain sorry or repentant; it simply made him angry.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what it right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while there were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Here we see the two dimensions of sin. If the first recorded sin – eating the forbidden fruit – was vertical (meaning a sin against God), this incident – the first recorded murder – was both vertical and horizontal (meaning a sin against our fellow man). It is also an indication of how firmly and quickly and devastatingly sin took root in the hearts of people.
Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in the place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord.
Really, Adam and Eve lost two sons; one in a physical sense, the other in a spiritual sense. Yet God’s plan continues to go forward through a new child, Seth, and his child, Enosh. It is noteworthy that these offspring of the woman are associated with calling on the name of the Lord – generally understood to mean the establishment of public worship.
We move to our final verses: This is the written account of Adam’s line. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man.” When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.”
The length of Adam’s life often attracts notice and prompts questions like: were years counted differently then or is their some symbolic rather than chronological meaning to them? The best answer is to simply take these statements at face value. In the early years of populating the earth God allowed for long life spans. Before the Bible was written, this also allowed for the promise of a Savior to be passed on down orally from Adam to many future generations.
Far more important is the clear distinction made here. Did you catch it? When God created Adam and Eve, they were created in his perfect image. They lost that image when they fell into sin. From that time on up until this very day all people have been born in the sinful image of Adam. In theological terms we call this inherited or original sin.
Finally, as a stark reminder of God’s judgment on sin, our text concludes with the simple refrain that marks the end of any sinful life, be it long or short: “and then he died.”
So, what are the key take-aways from this portion of God’s Word, and how does it fit into the Advent season? There are several things we could talk about, but let’s focus on three:
Number One is a general statement. The world is sinful and in need of a Savior. The vertical and horizontal nature of sin demonstrated by Cain when he killed his brother Abel persists to this very day. The daily news gives us ample evidence that man is sinful, and that people both intentionally and unintentionally hurt other people.
No amount of social engineering or government programs or political idealism will change that. Why? Because sin is in the DNA of all mankind, because all mankind bears the image of Adam.
What does that mean for us as Christians? We can and will do what we are able to make this world a better place. We can and will be the “salt” and “light” that our Savior asks us to be as his representatives. We can and will “lift high the cross” as we witness to the world in word and deed.
But we also realize that a sinful world will never change completely until the Second Advent of Christ, at which time Christ the King will make all things right.
Number Two is a personal statement. We are sinful and in need of a Savior. It is easy to look back on this text and make clear delineations. Abel wears a white hat. Cain wears a black hat. Cain is bad and represents a godless world. Abel is good and represents a godly line. And in our minds we might say: “I identify with Abel, thank you. So, let’s move along to the next subject.”
Not so fast. A renowned preacher of the last century once wrote a powerful sermon with the title “The Cain Within Us.” And a respected Bible commentator makes the statement: “In this world there is Abel, and there is Cain. In ourselves, also, perhaps there is Abel and there is Cain.”
This leads us to ask: What exactly was the sin of Cain? Was it an overall sense of resentment toward his brother? Was it anger toward God, feeling that God was somehow unfair toward him? Was it an inability to rejoice in his brother’s gifts and abilities, which led to jealousy and envy?
Whatever it was, Cain’s attitude was the antithesis of the brotherly love God asks of his children. And that vertical sin gave way to the horizontal sin that changed his and his brother’s and his parents lives forever.
Which reminds us that Advent is a time of honest introspection and reflection and comparison of our lives to the perfect standards of love and compassion and consideration toward others that God asks of us. Where we have failed, may God give us the wisdom and courage to repent.
And that leads to the final take-away. Eve may have thought Cain was the Savior and offspring of the woman God had promised who would come to reverse the curse of sin and take away its guilt and consequences. She was wrong, but only in her timing.
That offspring would come through another woman named Mary. He would come in humble circumstances and a lowly way, but of his power and might there would be no end. Through his sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection he would pave the way for all of Adam and Eve’s children to return to Paradise.
Meaning, we are the reason Jesus came. In that sense, we are the reason for the season.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ll wait till Monday and Tuesday to revel in this good news. On this last Sunday of a season built for anticipation, let us close with this prayer:
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child, make thee a bed, soft undefiled
Within my heart that it may be, a quiet chamber kept for thee. Amen.