If I could visit anywhere in the world today, I would go to New Zeeland. I hear they are crazy down there. They come up with the craziest and zaniest things to do. From what I understand, the velcro wall was their invention. People would wear this special suit and then run toward this wall and jump on a springboard and stick to the wall. I’m not sure how they got down.
It was in New Zeeland that Bungy Jumping first became popular as well. In fact, from what I hear, otherwise normal, healthy businessmen and secretaries would take off during their lunch breaks and find a half-finished building in the neighborhood, tie themselves to a crane a couple of hundred feet in the air, throw themselves off the building a couple of times and then calmly go back to work.
I heard of one couple recently who got married and in order to symbolize what they had done, they went bungy jumping together. They decided to jump off a bridge and really “take the plunge” together in their wedding clothes and all. Crazy!!
Well, what does that all have to do with Genesis 3 and dthe Fall of Man. I think that’s just it – Man did not fall – he jumped. He did not fall. He did not trip. He did not make a mistake. It was not an accident. He jumped. It was deliberate. It was premeditated. It was on purpose. The titles in our Bibles are not inspired. I have put a line through the word FALL and I now I call it “The JUMP of Man.” It’s much more accurate.
But, then again, it wasn’t just any sort of a jump. It wasn’t an intent to commit suicide for instance. No, this was a jump for pleasure. This was the original bungy jump of man.
The problem is, if we keep the metaphor going, the problem is, that the cord broke and man died. The original bungy jump of man – not so much fun after all.
Let’s take a closer look at how this tragic event happened. First of all, vs. 1 – 5 make it clear that it was premeditated. It was thought out, deliberate. Sure, they were deceived by the snake but really, they were deceived by their own hearts. The snake was more “shrewed” than we give him credit for sometimes. He never did directly tell them to eat the fruit. Vs. 1 describes him as “crafty” or “shrewed” and he begins with an apparently innocent question: Did God really say, “You must not eat from ANY tree in the garden?”
There are a number of indications here of the shrewedness of the snake. By asking the question, “Did God REALLY say…..” he introduces a measure of doubt or skepticism about God’s very clear command. In fact, in the second part of his question, he muddies the waters even further by changing God’s command. In Chapter 2: 16, God had said “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden except one.” But the snake says, “You CAN’T eat from any of the trees including this one.” He makes God look a lot less generous than He really is. Shrewed, very shrewed.
Furthermore, you notice that he simply says “God,” not “Lord God.” Lord God means covenant God, faithful God, loving God – but the snake just says God. Except in these few verses, everywhere else in this chapter it’s the “Lord God.” The snake is already trying to put distance between the woman and her God. And she picks up on it in her answer where she too says only “God.”
There are also other indications that the snakes poison is starting to work. Oh, she corrects him all right. “God said we CAN eat from all the trees, except this one. Yet here in the second part, once again the generosity of God is questioned. She also misquotes the command of God. Not only can´t you eat of it but you can’t even touch it or you will die. That seems a little much. What are you saying? If I accidentally trip and touch the tree, I will die. What kind of God would do that? That’s not fair. And God’s character is once again under attack.
You ought not to miss the subtelty here – the snake is arousing in the woman, and the woman is arousing in herself, a normal, healthy distaste for tyranny, unfairness, and stingyness. No one likes those things – and that’s good. We’re not supposed to. Tyranny is bad, unfairness is not good, stingyness is distasteful. The problem is that they ascribe these things to God!! And more specifically to the way that God exercises his authority over them. God isn’t being a good king.
This becomes clearer in the serpent’s next statements. At first, it looks like a sharp contradiction of what God had said. God says, “You will die” and the snake says “You will NOT die.” He seems to make God out to be a liar. But it’s even more subtle than that. In the Hebrew this phrase can be understood as “certainly you will not die,” or “it is not certain that you will die.” That’s, at least, a softer contradition than how we normally read it.
And isn’t the snake at least half right? Adam and Eve did not die, at least not until Adam reached the ripe old age of 930 years. And their eyes were opened. In vs. 22 God says, “Man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” The snake told the truth. He just left out the most important parts. Things like, “Oh, but you will die spiritually and that’s even worse.” And, “Oh, you will know good and evil but it is a burden that will corrupt you and make you miserable for the rest of your life.” Minor details in the snake’s eyes.
But the way he explains it to the woman makes it sound like God is holding out on something wonderful for man. God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God knowing good and evil God knows but he didn’t tell you. He doesn’t want you to be like Him. He wants to be in charge, even if He is a bit of a tyrant, and unfair at times and certainly stingy.
And by this time, by plugging into a good and healthy aversion to tyranny, the snake has got the woman to the point of rebellion. Tyrant or not, and God certainly is not, the woman ought not to have rebelled against God’s clear command. But the more subtle sin was describing and believing that God was a tyrant, unfair and stingy. Therefore, I wil not longer listen to God. I can’t trust Him. I will become a god unto myself. I will choose for myself what is good or evil for me. And she ate and the man ate and together they jumbped into the abyss – and the cord broke and they died a horrible death – even if a bit delayed.
Look at vs. 6. What an interesting picture of the crime itself. The woman saw, she took and she gave also to her husband. What did she see? Three things – she saw that the fruit of the tree was 1) good for food 2) pleasing to the eye and 3) desirable for gaining wisdom.
The important thing to recognize is that the way she looked at the tree has now changed. Before it was a dangerous thing to be avoided. Now, it was something to be desired. The phrase “good for food and pleasing to the eye” was the way God describes all the OTHER trees he had made. In chapter 2, vs. 9 it says that, “the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – treees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” And so the woman is treating this tree, that was set apart, as something normal and good to which she had a right. Hey, I’m allowed to eat fruit which is good for food. I’m allowed to enjoy the trees that are pleasing to the eye. Sure. But not this one. She has already set aside in her own heart the command of God. But the key motivation is that it is desireable for gaining wisdom – perhaps better translated – it is desireable for becoming like God.
And so she saw and she took and she gave – sin always wants company if only to have someone with whom to share the blame. And she ate and the man ate – and together they jumped into the abyss, and the cord broke and they died a death of a thousand cuts.
But the Lord God, the covenant God, the faithful and loving God, went looking. He, himself, jumped into the abyss and descended even into Hell to find His people and draw them out again.
I hate to ruin your image of bungy jumping but I think it’s good if we let it remind us of the jump that we all make when we sin. We describe in our hearts the laws of God as tyrannical and unfair and stingy and so we justify doing things our own way.
We no longer look at sin as something dangerous to be avoided but rather as something good and normal to which we have a right. We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Sin is dangerous and God is not tyrannical and unfair and stingy. He is the Lord God who loves us. He is the Lord God who died for us. He is the Lord God whoo gives us abundant life. And he is worthy of our obedience and love. Amen
This sermon was preached at UCC in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. The text was taken from Matthew 1: 18-25 The Story of Christmas from Joseph’s Point of View. “Call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
Perhaps the most important question at Christmas for the kids has to do with unwrapping presents. “What will I get for Christmas?” Already my kids are hinting (or just telling me outright) what they want for Christmas. Actually, my wife and I are pretty good at hinting as well.
When my kids ask me what I want for Christmas, I usually say, “a hug and a kiss.” When they were young that is all that they could give me and it is always enough. If my wife asks me, I would say, “underwear and socks,” meaning don’t spend our hard earned money on anything extravagant, just get me something I need, something that is already in the budget.
But, as Christmas gets closer, we start to think creatively and spend lavishly and give to our loved ones extravagantly because, well, we love them and Christmas is about showing your love through the giving of gifts, the more expensive the better. I think Christmas is broken.
The truth is that Christmas is not just about tinsel and presents and brightly lit Christmas trees and poinsettias. There’s something magical about Christmas. People come home for Christmas. Love is in the air. Forgiveness becomes possible. A family get together can bring healing…..or not.
Christmas time is a very lonely time for many people. Suicide rates always go up during the holidays. Family get togethers often end up in fighting and violence. Forgiveness is often superficial. Addictions ignored rather than healed. Secrets kept in the closet. Sins swept under the rug….
Ah, sins….perhaps that is the problem with Christmas. Sin. Rebellion against God. A problem of the heart….Our passage tells us that Christmas is about sin and that little baby lying in the manger is the solution to the greatest cancer that is eating all of us alive….our addiction to our own self interest….our addiction to pride but, most of all, our addiction to self-rule, not letting God get close enough to take over our lives….
On the one hand, getting something you need for Christmas (like underwear and socks) isn’t very exciting even if it is practical. We would much rather have something we want – a new iPhone 5, a vacation on the beach, tickets to the Ed Sheeran concert….but God, like a good parent, is dedicated to giving us what we need….he goes deeper and further into our lives to give us a gift that will truly change our lives. God’s gift transforms lives. He gets down and dirty and probes where it hurts. He is in the business of teaching prostitutes how to truly love again. He is in the business of taking away addictions and transforming lives. He is in the business of saving people from their sins.
“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for the child within her is conceived of the Holy Spirit and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”
God deals with reality, not tinsel trees and popscicle dreams. Take Joseph for instance. What did he get for Christmas? A heart rending surprise is what. The love of his life, his fiance, is pregnant with another man’s baby. If he doesn’t denounce her, the rest of his family and friends and the entire village would think that it was his. A child born out of wedlock. That is reality for Joseph. It took a visit from the archangel of God to set the record straight. Nothing less would do. And then, he finds out his taxes are going up and he has to move with his entire family to Bethlehem. Mary is in her final month and she would have to travel with them on a mule for days on end and they would be lucky to get there on time before the baby was born. And it costs money to move and there were preparations to make, things to do…..his Christmas experience was complicated, difficult and rooted in the reality of poverty and oppression by the Romans.
God wants to save us from our sins this Christmas. It is not a gift we want necessarily but it is one that we need because it is the foundation of all the other gifts that he wants to give us.
God wants to give us a gift that matters because true love gives us what we need and what we truly need (but can’t get for ourselves) we truly want as well….restored relationships, peace in the family, a job to pay the bills and help those in need….
But, even that, is not God’s gift for me at Christmas. There is something deeper and more important yet…..sin and rebellion against God is the fundamental problem. God will not first of all fix our relationships and our circumstances. He may (because he loves to make us happy) but he is committed first of all to fixing us….and our relationship with Him.
There is a saying that goes something like this….
“There is nothing more embarrassing in heaven and on earth than the arrogance of people who ought to be ashamed of themselves. Sadly that applys to all of us.”
Sin is serious business. We take it lightly but God takes it very seriously indeed because it has cut us off from Him. Guilt and Shame about our sin is God’s first gift at Christmas….the convicting work of the Holy Spirit is a gift from God. Most people don’t associate sin with Christmas. Most people are not concerned about their sin or about their relationship with God. But a real view of reality will allow us to see that this is the heart of the human problem.
Love and Forgiveness are the second gift that God gives us at Christmas but only because this child, the Son of God, would grow up and experience the reality of pain and suffering, betrayal and hatred, mockery and crucifixtion and even death and hell, especially hell, the utmost rejection of the person who he loved most in life….and he did it all for you and me. That is his gift and it can change your life if you believe in it and trust it and therefore repent….
Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, John the Baptist cried in the desert. Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God, the gift of Emmanuel, God with Us, is at hand….the Kingdom of God is within you, Jesus said….
The gift of Christmas is salvation from our sins because of the cross of Christ. Salvation means eternal life, abundant life with God….it means a new relationship with God that will solve the heart of the problem…..the Holy Spirit within is a fountain of life that will overflow into all of our other relationships and problems and situations and begin a process of healing and restoration.
Love changes people. God’s love in Christ transforms lives. That is his gift but we must accept it in humility….we need to come to the manger, to the throne room of God, on His terms, this is no cheap grace. You don’t get a new relationship with God just because he is a nice guy. God is not Santa Clause. He is not a genie in a lamp with three wishes for you. There is no magic in Christmas….There is only the harsh reality of sweat, blood and tears transformed by the love of God shown in a baby who is destined to grow up and die on the cross for you and me….
It was our sin, our rebellion, our addictions, our prostitution, our pride, our stupidity, our stubborness that made it necessary that this baby had to die for us….
We can be thankful for the gift but in humility we must accept that there is other way to solve the problem….not the wisdom of Buddah or the Dali Lama, not science and technology, not Islam, not Hinduism, only Christ, the babe of Bethlehem, destined to die a horrible death on the cross. Love is exclusive, it does not share itself with some other lover, some other idol. There is only one name under heaven by which we can be saved. Not because we are good people, not because we come to church, not because we give to the poor or because we have good intentions but only because we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of what the true problem is and believe in God’s exclusive solution and because we believe and trust in God’s gift of salvation, we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of repentance and training in holiness and discipleship and prayer….
That is the power of the abundant life despite circumstances, that can transform the relationships around us, that can dig deep into the stench and sin of the reality around us and in us and make us a source of transforming power in the lives of the people we love the most….
So, do you believe in the miracle of Christmas? Do you believe in the reality of your sin and the powerful love of God that invades your reality and transforms it through faith and belief and repentance and new life in Christ. If you do, then bring God’s gift to those around you. Forgive them. Love them and tell them how God’s gift this Christmas has changed your life…..Amen.