29th November 2020 Russell Braund

First Sunday in Advent

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Light in the darkness. Genesis 3:1-13

Do you remember Bazooka Joe’s? If you do, you are a ‘60s kid. For the uninitiated, Bazooka Joe’s were a bright pink lump of bubble gum which contained a tiny comic strip inside the wrapper – and my mum wouldn’t let me have it. It was full of sugar and you could blow enormous bubbles if you were skilled, but my mum thought it was rubbish and a waste of money. One day, I was sent to the local shops (I was about 8 or 9 years old) and I sneaked into the sweet shop and bought one with some of the change. Now I couldn’t have been very bright, because although my mum could not read or write very well, she certainly knew how to add up. In addition, I couldn’t wait to stuff this bubble gum into my mouth and so when I got home I had to squeeze it up onto my gums so it couldn’t be seen. But it was bright pink and had a very strong sweet smell. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of fronting it by plonking down the change and putting the shopping in the kitchen, but mum then counted the change…the shame she made me feel was dreadful.

This incident paled into insignificance, when she caught me smoking as a teenager – but that’s another story. Both incidents are utterly trivial in the light of our reading today.

Look at this picture.

Just gaze at it for a moment and take in what is happening – the banishment from Eden. Here is a close up of the faces. Look at Adam, face hidden in his hands; his mouth open as he cries; the sick realisation of the consequences of what they have done; the shame of the betrayal of the trust God had given them. Look at Eve and the agony the artist has expressed on her face; the cry of anguish coming from her lips; the pain of the situation that is as physical as it is mental. I have looked at a number of depictions of the banishment of Adam and Eve and the artist here – who was Masaccio painting in the early 15th Century – has captured the pain and the anguish better than any others.

The point of this story is not that Eve deceived Adam – they stood together and he was a willing accomplice. Don’t use this as a reason for placing women in a secondary or submissive role to men. It is not about nakedness and sex. It is about the pain and the shame of betrayal as they realise they have broken the trust placed in them as they were given the responsibility of nurturing the garden by God. It is the realisation of the destruction of their relationship with God their creator, such that they would no longer walk with him side by side in the garden. It is the responsibility and vulnerability of knowing -being as wise as God – which is a heavy burden to bear.

Jump forward and think about another betrayal of trust. Judas, one of the 12 who has had his feet washed as carefully and lovingly as the other disciples, thinks he knows better and thinks ‘the cause’ – whatever that might have been – has been let down or needs a nudge. Who sees his way to a quiet profit, without thinking about the consequences. When he realises the full impact of what he has done, it is too much to bear, and so he flings his blood money into the temple and then hangs himself.

The Genesis story is always read in Advent, if at no other time it is read at carol services. The first reading of the carol service is this one, and over the next two weeks we will be using the more hopeful and promising readings from Isaiah 9 and 11. I can’t help feeling that the readings should begin before Genesis 3. The scene is not really properly set and that is the danger of taking one chapter or section of a chapter and making it stand alone. Why are Adam and Eve depicted as being in such agony on leaving the garden? Because the context is the wonderful creation they were given and the close relationship they enjoyed with God their Creator, which they have ripped up. Our carol services should begin in chapter 2 to set the scene. That would make them longer of course.

This morning I am going to attempt to link chapters 2 and 3 to better understand the story of Adam and Eve’s banishment from Eden. Building on the creation account of Genesis 1, chapter 2 tells of Eden and the establishment of Adam and Eve in the garden. There is a sense of beauty and balance with humans given the responsibility of caring for the garden. The balance comes about because there are boundaries and it is these boundaries the serpent undermines. Within the creation of God there is community that links God with the creatures he has brought into being and the natural world in which they were placed. Within the creation of God there is trust between God and humans, between Adam and Eve, and I suggest the natural world as well. There is a sense of well being in Eden and this is established because there are boundaries.

You may well be aware of the saying, ‘he may have fired the bullets, but someone else made them’. The serpent is the bullet maker. Adam and Eve were the ones who fired. That doesn’t excuse them. What did the serpent do? The serpent presented God’s boundaries as barriers to be circumvented. God is keeping something from you. God doesn’t want you to be happy he is cramping your life and your freedom. God doesn’t want you to be as knowledgeable and as powerful as God is. One commentator said that the serpent faces humanity with their trust in God and asks the question, ‘Are we prepared to be under God’s authority?’

It is not for nothing that Jesus includes in the Lord’s Prayer the line, ‘Lead us not into temptation.’ Please God don’t take us there in the first place, but if we find ourselves there, deliver us! In Corinthians Paul says this

Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people.

But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. 1Corinthians 10:13

It is in the context of teaching about idolatry, the responsibility of fellowship and leads into criticism of their behaviour at communion. The reality of life is that we will face tests and challenges and the question is, how will we respond? The prayer of Paul at the end of Ephesians is that they would stand firm on the salvation of God in Jesus Christ, no matter what may come.

The consequences of the choice Adam and Eve made were devastating as depicted in the painting I showed earlier. It was the rupture of relationships on all fronts.

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The rupture of the relationship between God and humankind. They had chosen to step outside the boundary and must now bear the responsibility. They chose to be all knowing and now must carry the burden. In addition, the closeness of God in the garden could no longer be experienced.

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There was a rupture in the relationship between man and woman. There was blame and probably the argument over who was responsible continued outside the garden. It certainly raises its head today in many circumstances, with people wanting to avoid responsibility and blame others. Adam was just as culpable as Eve and the history of blaming Eve for deceiving Adam is disingenuous. Reading Genesis 3:6 in different translations clearly makes the point that Adam was with her.

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There was a rupture in our relationship with the natural world. The environment becomes one in which humankind has to struggle to survive.

These ruptured relationships can be seen today in the following ways:

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The struggle for dominance. This is experienced between nations and within nations. Everything is fine as long as you see things my way and it benefits my country

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We see it in the breakdown in relationships between ethnicities and the assertion of one group’s superiority over another’s – which happens in all nations of the world. The place where this should not be the case is the church and as we move into the New Year one of my priorities is to work to make us a truly multicultural church in worship, in leadership and in friendships. The leadership are already beginning to think and reflect on this and are reading ‘We need to talk about race’ by Ben Lindsey.

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We see the rupture in relationship with the natural world. I read a brief article in the Lancet which suggests our immediate crisis of Covid 19 is not unrelated to our interaction with the natural world, which has led to other serious respiratory viruses. You would need to talk with Adrian or David for a more expert understanding than I can give.

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We see the rupture in relationship in the environmental crisis we face. We considered this in our ‘Tenants of the King’ series which you can revisit on our website. This also is going to be a priority for the New Year as we as a church play our part individually and together to make changes.

This is all very heavy on a Sunday morning and we may well cry with Paul, ‘Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?’ Paul also provides the answer, ‘Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ That is not an excuse to escape into triumphalism and divest ourselves of responsibility. It is the grounds of hope and assurance as we play our part in taking responsibility in this world under the authority of God.

When Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, there is a comment in v.21 that God made clothes for them. They had to bear the consequences and responsibility of their actions, but they were not abandoned by God. The story of redemption is the assurance that God has not abandoned this world and the creatures living in it. We have a responsibility to work with our Father in bringing the gospel to bear in this world while we live in it.

Advent is a good time to re-think our priorities, particularly in a year that has highlighted the things that are really important for life. They have nothing to do with materialism, ambition and dominance of others. They are all to do with the separated relationships of lock down. The Christmas message is that God in Christ came to deal with the ruptured relationship of sin, renewed through cross and resurrection, which will culminate in the new heavens and earth of Jesus’ return.

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