The Child that Broke the Mold (December 23, 2018)
The Child that Broke the Mold
Genesis 4:1-2, 6-8, 25-5:5
The first reading for today, from Genesis 4 and 5, paints a pretty dismal picture, doesn’t it? It doesn’t really seem like the kind of text we would read and meditate on just days before Christmas. It doesn’t seem to follow the Advent crescendo to the bursting joy and glory of Christmas. It seems out of place with its talk of murder and death. But this is exactly what we need to hear just before Christmas. Without the reality of what the world became after the fall – filled with death and ruin – we cannot fully appreciate the birth of the child in the manger. We could never cherish the Savior enough unless we realize just what he saves us from. So, we have the true story of Cain and Abel – the story of all mankind.
Before we dig into the text, however, I want you to consider which death is more shocking. There’s two of them in this reading. There’s the obvious one: Cain killing Abel. But then there’s also the one right at the end of the reading. “Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died” (Gen 5:5). With either death, it wasn’t meant to be this way. God’s creation was very good. He created mankind in his own image. And we know from scripture it’s not a physical image, it’s a spiritual image. It’s shown in the blessings God gave them right after he created them. “God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and increase in number;’” (It’s God, in a way, giving man and woman his creative power – the ability to bring forth new life!) “’fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (It’s God entrusting mankind with good dominion over his creation). So, being made in the image of God, Man knew God’s will, agreed with God’s will – acknowledging that his will is best. And in the image of God, Adam and Eve joyfully did God’s will.
That is, until they selfishly valued their own will over God’s. And you can immediately see the effects of what the sinful image does. They no longer loved selflessly as God does, but rather selfishly tried to cover up their sin and blame others. Out of love God banished them from the garden so that they would not eat from the Tree of Life again and have to live in this broken image forever. Then God gave them painful reminders in childbirth and working the ground that this isn’t the perfection that God intended. He desired something better for them. So he also made them a promise – the promise that a child would be born to undo what they had done.
The effects of sin continue to be seen throughout their lives. Adam and Eve abruptly met the reality of sin when one day Cain came home, but Abel didn’t. Their first encounter with death – the death that God warned about – was not by natural causes… well, what we now call natural, it certainly wasn’t what God intended. Their first introduction to death was when their oldest son murdered their second child. Cain didn’t appreciate God’s gifts. He didn’t want to accept the blame for his own sinful attitude and downcast face. Like his parents, he didn’t want to repent. And since he couldn’t silence God, he silenced his brother Abel – who, even though he probably didn’t gloat over Cain, his very existence was a reminder of God’s disapproval with Cain’s sin.
It was the first toll of the bell. The first vivid reminder of what sin does. Then you read through Genesis 5 in its entirety, and you are really forced to come to grips with what sin means. Every 3 verses you hear that bell toll again and again and again. “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness… and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died” (Gen 5:3-5). “Then Seth lived… became the father of Enosh… lived some more… and then he died… Then Enosh lived… and then he died… and then he died… and then he died…” (Gen 5). Vayamot… vayamot… vayamot. That one Hebrew word shows up again and again every three verses ringing out the toll of sin. It’s like Adam and Eve had opened up the floodgates of death on all humanity and there’s no hope of stopping it. Now all throughout history and throughout our very lives, that bell tolling has become the all too familiar backdrop. Vayamot… vayamot… vayamot. Anyone who lives, will one day die.
Just as sin was increasing in Cain’s sullen attitude, we see the same sin increase in the world around us. No longer are we born in God’s image, but rather the image of our sinful parents going all the way back to sinful Adam. Whereas Adam originally knew God’s will, agreed with his will, and did it, we must now be taught God’s will. We often disagree with it – not seeing that his intentions are good and gracious. And we often refuse to do his will. As sons and daughters of Father Adam and Mother Eve, we know that our intellect is often frighteningly dull in matters relating to God. Our emotions often deceive us into trying to find joy in what is displeasing to God. And, with the apostle Paul, we must confess that our sinful will is no longer in harmony with God’s holy will (Rm 7:14-17). Because of our sinfulness, the bell will one day toll for us as well. My story and your story will be added to all the others. He lived, he perhaps had sons and daughters. He lived some more. And then he died. Vayamot.
We’ve become so used to its tolling, that it no longer phases us – not as it should. Yes, we are saddened by death – especially when it is someone we know. But we’ve come to a point where we think of it as natural. The bell tolls without fail. That wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t natural for Adam and Eve to find their son murdered. Nor was it even natural for Adam to die “of old age.” And once we realize how this tolling bell pierces mankind with the severity of sin, we realize the need for the child who would be pierced for mankind. We realize the desperate need to silence it’s tolling.
There came a night when that bell was finally consigned to silence. It happened, when God miraculously brought life into the world. That maybe brings a whole new meaning to the hymn “Silent Night.” Every child is a miracle. Any parent knows that. The births of your own children probably stick out in your mind with vivid joy. But there are some births that bring joy to all mankind. Eve’s first child – the first child to ever be born – was a reminder that God would make good on his promise! Despite their sin, despite their banishment from the garden of Eden and their specific punishments, God’s promise stands, “[the woman’s offspring] will crush your head, [Satan]” (Gen 3:15). And here you have it. Not the Child himself – not the Savior – but a child. The first child since the promise. The first reminder that through a long line of decedents would finally come the Savior.
So, we have Eve’s child, the first reminder of the promised Child. Then you have Mary’s child, in the gospel reading. And Mary’s child is the fulfillment of that promise – the child who would break the mold of Genesis chapter 5. All along, quietly but steadily, that bell has been tolling as the backdrop to all history. “And then he died… and then he died… and then he died.” A reminder of the mold that every descendant of Adam would be born in his own image (Gen 5:3) not God’s image. That bell tolled for every person we read about in Scripture, the people we knew who are no longer with us – a solemn toll that there is no other mold, no one escapes the death knell ever since the sin of Adam and Eve. But Mary’s child broke that mold – conceived by the Holy Spirit and born in God’s image. This Child would die too, but his would be different. His death would silence the bell for good.
A brief side note. You were maybe wondering about the Revelation reading and the intense imagery in chapter 12. The woman in that reading is not specifically Mary. Well, it is Mary, but it isn’t. The child, the “male child who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter” (Rev 12:5), is indeed Christ. And yes, Christ was born of Mary, but the woman in the reading is actually the Church. You can rightly say that Jesus was born out of the church – that line of true believers who held to the promise of the Savior just as we do today. It’s the adornments – clothed with the sun, moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars – that move us away from Mary specifically to the Church in a more general sense. But the really interesting thing about this reading is that it tells the story of Christ from God’s perspective. We’ve seen the details from the human perspective. We read it every year from Luke 2. But here we get a glimpse into what God sees. How fiercely the red dragon, Satan, fought to prevent that child, or snatch him up just after birth. We know of Herod’s plan to get rid of the newborn King – a plan, no doubt, conceived by Satan. What else was going on behind the scenes that we don’t see? What other dangers lurked that God delivered this child from and spared us the details. Could there have been danger on the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem that God held at bay? What if they couldn’t find even the simple shelter of the stable? Satan no doubt worked hard to prevent the work of the Savior because he knew it would silence the bell that he started tolling long ago.
But Satan didn’t stand a chance. God is a keeper of promises. He loves to make promises to spur us on, like he did right after Adam and Eve sinned. He gave them hope and a future. He showed them his mercy, a Savior to believe in. And God makes good on his promises. Always. Just as Cain, the first child, was a reminder that God would make good on his promise to send a Savior, so the Savior’s birth (traced through the line of Seth), and his resurrection is a reminder that there is rebirth. There is life! There is a joyous resurrection awaiting all who believe. The bell may still toll. The death knell that started in Genesis 5 still rings on. But that toll is an empty toll for those who put their hope in the Savior – the Savior who triumphed over the grave so that it lost it’s sting. And it all started with the birth of a very special child.
One last thing I want to point out. After Adam and Eve learned, in a very personal way, the toll of sin in the death of Abel, they did not lose hope. They did not despair of life or even refuse to bring more children into the world because of the darkness in it. They did not turn away from God. The faith which the Promise had awakened in their hearts led them to cling to their God. Eve saw the gracious and mighty hand of God in the birth of her new son. In such faith she named him Seth (meaning “substitute”), saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him” (Gen 4:25). Here we find a different spirit from the one which we met when Adam and Eve first sinned, and when Cain killed his brother. Here, we find a spirit of hope and faith. Mary’s child, then, the Christ child would be the ultimate Substitute. Not simply in the place of one lost son, but in the place of every son and daughter than has been lost to sin throughout history. This child would break the mold of sinful flesh, and silence the toll of sin once and for all.