I’m sure most of us, at one time or another, have watched Sesame Street—either as children, or with our own children or grandchildren. One of my favorite things on the program is when they show a number of images and ask, “Which one of these is not like the other ones?” Well, I must say that those words came to me as I looked over the scripture lessons for today
I understand how the gospel story of Jesus’ baptism and the story from Acts regarding baptism fit together, but Genesis? That seemed to be the one thing that was not like the other things. Let’s see if we can get a handle on the creation and how it relates to the Baptism of Our Lord.
Have you ever seen an image from the Hubble telescope? I recently saw one that contains around 10,000 galaxies, including some that were not visible in previous imaging. It was so beautiful and was such an illustration of the power of the God who created the heavens and the earth.
First of all, in order to understand Genesis, we must realize that it is not a scientific treatise. Rather it is poetic theology regarding the character of God and his relationship to his creation. It is a passage of revelation and testimony of God’s creative works.
“In the beginning…God.” The Hebrew word used for God here stresses God’s sovereignty and incomparability. He is the “God of gods.” There is no other like our God.
“God created” (v. 1). Create “always describes the divine activity of fashioning something new, fresh and perfect.” It often stresses forming anew, reforming or renewing (Ps. 51:10; Isaiah 43:15, 65:17) (NET notes).
At this time, chaos and disorder reigned. “…the earth was a formless void…darkness covered the face of the deep” (v. 2). Listen to the way the Message translates the Hebrew. “Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness” (MSG). That’s exactly the way Hebrew scholars describe the term “formless void.”
God brought order about by a “wind from God,” the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit. In both the Old Testament language of Hebrew and the New Testament language of Greek, the word translated “wind,” can also mean breath or spirit. Since that spirit is God’s, it is the Holy Spirit.
The Message once again beautifully and accurately describes the work of the Holy Spirit in creation. “God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss” (v. 2).
God’s next creative act is to bring light from darkness. This was done by God’s voice.
“God said” (v. 3). When God speaks, something happens. Here God speaks creation into being. “Let there be light” (v. 3) and it appeared. This is but the beginning of what God speaks into being. Our God is talkative and creative. God is chatty. When God speaks, things happen.
“God saw that the light was good” (v. 4). Good signifies whatever enhances, promotes, produces or is conducive for life. God is good and that goodness is reflected in all of his works.
The opening verses of Genesis speak of beginnings and hope. “…light bursts into being (v. 2) and enables the possible perception of all other elements of creation” (Price). Light is the basis of life and order and is judged by God to be good (v. 4). Light becomes a profound symbol for God’s coming into our world in Christ and for the fullness of life itself (John 8:12; 9:5).
God speaks and actions occur. We should understand our active God as a verb, not a noun.
What about the chaos of the world around us? What does creation have to do with that?Abuse of drugs and alcohol is rampant. Homelessness is all around us. On top of that, we see devastating, natural disasters and war. Are these issues outside the realm of God’s creative and re-creative powers? Absolutely not! When God entered our world’s chaos in Christ, in Bethlehem, the world was no better then than it is now.
God cares and wants to work in our world, so he calls us to be his co-creators in this world. One of the organizations I’m involved in is the Addiction Response Ministry. It consists of people from various denominations who care about this scourge in Chautauqua County. We’ve had the most response and success in the outpatient addiction unit at WCA. God is also creating and recreating lives in several of the area’s prisons.
There are many other organizations that need our help through prayer, giving and volunteering.
What about the chaos we may be experiencing in our own lives? We may not be in a place to help anyone else because we are barely keeping our heads above water.
In Genesis, we have the image of the Holy Spirit moving over the waters we feel like we’re drowning in—speaking and creating. Baptism can be seen as a new creation compared to the creation in Genesis. The original act of God was the first creation. The baptism of Jesus inaugurated Jesus’ ministry. Our own baptism inaugurated our new creation.
Our lives may be a mess. Is our marriage falling apart no matter what we do? Do we have a problem with an addiction of some sort? Or perhaps we have a child going his or her own way, making a mess of their life. Here the image of darkness seems to sum up what we’re experiencing. Has that ever been part of your life? Darkness describes what I have experienced at various times.
When I was in the hospital in February and had an ecoli infection, things were pretty dark. I overheard a nurse say to someone, “We thought we were going to lose her.” I felt so awful and weak and sad. I didn’t want to leave my family. Even though I knew I’d be ok, I wanted to see my granddaughter grow up and I wanted to have many more years with Ray. And I wanted to continue being a pastor.
During this time, twice I had the same dream. I was in a dark tunnel, trying to feel my way through. I was miserable and didn’t know which way to go or what to do. I was scared. Then there was a force ahead of me and I had the urge to push forward into that unknown force. After pushing into the force, I discovered it was the Holy Spirit. I felt embraced by the Spirit. I understood these dreams to mean that the Holy Spirit would bring me through the darkness, if I just trusted and let myself be engulfed by God’s Spirit. And here I am.
I have to admit that I wondered if these were dreams from God or if they were because of all the meds I was on. My spiritual director and others confirmed that they were from God, which is why I can share this experience with you now.
If God is still creating order out of chaos in the succession of day and night, just maybe, God might create order out of the chaos of our lives. God brings light out of darkness, not only in the first creation, but in us whenever we trust him to do so.
This initially happens in baptism, where God recreates us and infuses us with the Holy Spirit. On this celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord, I’d like to share something Luther wrote about baptism that applies to us:
Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practice all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy [Spirit] with His gifts.
By God’s grace, we have a hope that will sustain us in whatever circumstances life may throw at us. We have the Holy Spirit and his gifts so that we may not only be healed, but that we may spread the good news of the gospel in word and deed. We are to be God’s hands and feet in our world so that God’s creation of humanity, may be recreated into wholeness and health through us as co-creators with God.
“In the beginning…God” (v. 1) is the whole story in a nutshell—creation, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and God’s continuing, healing work in our own lives. As Luther wrote in The Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy [Spirit] has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…” (The Small Catechism).
This is most certainly true.
Shauna Hannah, “Preaching Helps, Currents in Theology and Mission,” 45:1 (January 2018).
John H. Hayes, Preaching Through the Christian Year B
Mary Johnson, “Midweek Musings” for Sunday, January 7, 2018.
Martin Luther, “Baptism” in The Book of Concord.
___________, The Small Catechism in The Book of Concord.
Richard Boyce, Joseph L. Price, Donna Schafer, Feasting On the Word: Year B, Volume 1.
New English Translation, notes.