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Christmas

First Murder

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The story of the first murder found in Genesis 4:1-16 has got to be one of the oddest murder stories in history. Here’s a quick recap in case you’ve forgotten it.

Cain and Abel were the two oldest boys born to Eve after she and Adam were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Cain grew up to become a farmer, and Abel grew up to become a herdsman. Cain brought produce from his farm and presented it to the Lord. Likewise, Abel also brought animals from his herds and presented them to the Lord. The Lord looked with favor upon the offerings Abel brought but not on the offerings Cain brought. Because of this, Cain grew angry and frowned. God said to Cain, “Why are you angry and frowning? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if not, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Then Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out into the field.” Once they were in the field, Cain attacked Abel and killed him.

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

Cain replied, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Wandering, east of Eden.

Let’s start with Cain’s motive for murder. It appears to be jealousy or envy of his brother. Yet it is not envy of his brother’s success or of a woman they both love. No, it is envy of God’s favor. Cain resents the fact that God accepted Abel, but didn’t accept him. Of course, the story is sparse. We know nothing of their possible sibling rivalry, nothing of the resentment Cain may have felt at seeing a younger brother preferred over the first born. We don’t know how God showed his favor, whether he appeared as a man as he sometimes does in Genesis, or whether his favor took the form of blessings on Abel’s endeavors. The events related could refer to a single instance or to an ongoing pattern of preferential treatment for Abel. What we do know is that God places responsibility for this state of affairs squarely on Cain himself: “If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted?” Both brought offerings to the Lord, but Cain’s was rejected because he was not doing right.

God also warns Cain that if he continues going his own way, then his life is in danger from a croucher at the entryway to sin. God tells Cain he must subdue or master the croucher. The language recalls God’s words to Eve when he pronounced punishment for eating the forbidden fruit. “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Like Adam and Eve, Cain goes on to sin despite God’s warnings. When God pronounces judgment on him, though he bemoans his fate, he does not repent.

Later on when God provides civic laws for the Israelites to follow, he institutes the death penalty for murder (cf. Numbers 35: 16-21). Clearly, if God were determined to be just and teach the new human race a lesson in justice, he would have put Cain to death. Instead he sentences him to banishment. Cain complains that once his crime is known, anyone who finds him may kill him. Instead of saying, “Too bad. That’s what you deserve,” God does something extraordinary. He puts a mark on Cain to prevent anyone from killing him. The mark of Cain, far from being a sign of sin’s shame and God’s displeasure, is a sign of God’s grace and protection. God goes even further, threatening a sevenfold vengeance on anyone who dares kill Cain. Consider, therefore, the amazing mercy God shows toward the first murderer before insisting that God favors the death penalty for murder.

In both Genesis 3 and 4, though God threatens those who sin with death, the actual punishment is banishment from his presence. Life is in the presence of God, and death is exclusion from his presence.

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Dad’s Christmas

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This post is a speech I am giving for the humorous speech contest tomorrow night at Toastmasters. I originally gave this speech two years ago at Lawson Thrill Speakers, my local Toastmasters club. I also gave it at my church as part of our “Home for Christmas” theme. I hope you enjoy it. Visit my blog to read more or post a comment.

Oh, hey. Just got back with a tree from Dairy Queen. Well, not really from Dairy Queen, you know. Every year they sell trees from the DQ parking lot because no one wants to buy ice cream in December. Can you believe it? Seventy-three dollars for a Christmas tree. Every year they get more expensive.

You know, the older I get, the less I like Christmas. Oh, I still like the story okay: the baby and manger, the shepherds and angels and wise men. But everything else just leaves me feeling tired and wishing it were over.  The day after Thanksgiving I’m already frazzled. There’s never enough time and never enough money.

My wife, she likes to go all out for Christmas. Big tree, lots of lights, tinsel and wreaths and holly and garland everywhere. And every year she wants to do more: more lights. Bigger wreaths. Goofy yard ornaments. And all of it costs more. And more presents.

Every year we end up with Christmas debt, and about the time I get last year’s credit cards paid off, it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving and time to start the whole thing over again.

One year I put my foot down. “No tree until Christmas Eve,” I said. “That’s the way they used to do it. We’ll have a big tree-decorating party and string popcorn and make paper chains and do all that family stuff.” The truth was, I didn’t have money for a tree. But by Christmas Eve I had managed to scrape together twenty dollars, and I figured I could talk the guy down since he wouldn’t be able to sell it the next day anyway. So I headed on over to the tree lot. But there was nobody there. There were about a dozen trees but nobody selling them. I went next door to the gas station.

“Where’s the guy who sells the trees?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, how am I supposed to get a tree? It’s Christmas Eve!”

“Just take one.”

Yeah. That was the year I stole our Christmas tree. It seems funny now, but at the time it was embarrassing. Me in the dark at the tree lot tying a stolen tree to the top of my car and hoping the cops don’t come by. Still, I saved twenty bucks.

And then there’s the programs. It turns out there’s a different program for each of your children. The toddler program rehearses on Sunday morning during church. The grade school program meets on Saturday mornings. My teens meet on Thursday to rehearse a deeply meaningful piece about loneliness and depression during Christmas—set to music that sounds like someone kicked a drum set down the stairs. And me? I’m in the grown-up Christmas play. I paly the Grinch. Again. My wife says it’s typecasting. We meet on Wednesday nights.

Then two weeks before Christmas it all gets kicked into high gear, and everyone has three rehearsals in the same week. And my wife and I put a thousand miles on the car and with gas prices the way they are! And we still have to buy presents! And Lucy needs a winter coat, and Josh needs a new pair of boots because the ones we bought him last year that he wore like three times don’t fit him any more. And two of my credit cards are already maxed out, and my wife just informed me that her parents are going to be here for Christmas. Joy to the world. Yeah. I’ll be glad when the whole thing is over.

And yet…

Years ago my wife started a family tradition. She put out the manger with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and wise man, but she left out the baby Jesus. Then on Christmas morning when the kids came rushing into our bedroom wanting to open presents, she got up and took them to the manger. “Look!” she said. “The baby Jesus is here!” Now it’s the first thing the kids look for on Christmas.

On Christmas morning I’m the one who passes out the presents, and I see their eyes light up. I see them smile and hug one another and sometimes even hug me. But what I like best is waking up to the sound of running footsteps and hushed, excited voices: “Look! The baby Jesus is here!” And I’m glad we did everything we did and took all the trouble we took and even spent all the money we spent. And I would do it all again. Which is just as well. Because next year is right around the corner.

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