(Written at the start of the new Millenium)
I think that it's very appropriate that the readings for today should include those first few verses from the book of Genesis. For what seems to be ages now, we have been bombarded with all the hype that has gone with the celebration of the turn of the Millennium. Whether it's been the prophets of doom insisting that something equivalent to the apocalypse would hit us at one second past midnight, or the unknown terror of the Millennium bug striking, one theme seems to have been at the forefront of most peoples hopes and dreams for the start of the year 2000, and that has been one of a new beginning.
Witness the call for a cancellation of third world debt, which has had at least some success - echoing the biblical call for a year of Jubilee, of the wiping clean of debt, giving people with no hope at least the expectation that the future holds something better than the past. And the bible is full of new beginnings, from the first pages of Genesis through to the birth of our Lord Jesus and onward to the book of Revelation which points the way towards a new Jerusalem, towards the coming again of Jesus into the world.
So what do we as Christians, reading these well worn verses from the Old and the New Testament see within them that gives us hope as we start a new year, a new century and a new millennium all rolled into one?
I see two themes within these verses, which I call Continuity and Creativity
The early verses of the book of Genesis concern themselves with one, if not the, biggest questions of all time, namely "Where did we come from?" and "Why are we here?"
This is not the time or place to start a discussion on whether or not the whole process of creation took place exactly as it is depicted in the bible, or whether what we have here is a picture, painted with words rather than colors, of how the universe came into existence. It is an argument that has kept scholars and scientists busy for many centuries, and both camps seem to have more or less equal numbers of scholars and scientists within them, so at the very best one could say that opinion is divided.
I want to take a much more simplistic view of those first few verses which take us up to the first day of creation
Let me read again the first words of Genesis
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters"
The Spirit of God was "hovering" over the waters. What a wonderful picture. In fact there are quite a few different translations in this verse. The Good News version talks of the Power of God moving over the water, but it could also mean a wind from God or even an awesome wind
The important word, I think is POWER. Here we have a description of God's power at work in the world. The early Christian writers were seemingly lost for words when thinking of the awesome power of their God, and resorted to a word that means more as a picture than as mere letters on a page.
Ruah meaning breath or wind. Wind is an invisible, unpredictable, uncontrollable force, which bears down on anything in its path. We've seen pictures of the damage that hurricanes and tornadoes can do, felt the power of the wind on our faces. The early writers looked at the forces and influences that seemed to be at work in their everyday lives and equated them to the power of the wind.
Breath is like a miniature wind, and is perfect as a descriptive word for a power that emanates from the creator, for breath is essential for life.
I said that one of my themes was continuity, and skipping through the centuries to the writings of Mark we find yet another pictorial description of God's Spirit, his Power at work in the world
"As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descended on him like a dove"
God's Spirit at work in the act of creation, the beginning of all beginnings
God's Spirit at work at the start of Jesus' ministry on earth, a new beginning, a new hope for all mankind
At Pentecost we see God's Spirit, this time described like tongues of fire, at the beginning of the church, as the apostles received the power they needed for their ministry
God's Spirit, One Spirit, One Power pictured as breath, as a mighty rushing wind, as fire and as a dove. One Spirit present at the creation of the universe. The same Spirit present at the River Jordan and on that wonderful first day of Pentecost. That same Spirit present today……. for without breath there is no life, and without the breath of God, the Spirit of God in our lives and in our churches there is NO life
I said right at the beginning that this was not the time or place to question the validity of the creation stories contained within the book of Genesis, that's up to each one of us to come to conclusions about…… and it's important that we do, and acknowledge that there are strong and dedicated Christians who hold totally different views on the subject.
I merely want to look at the story of Creation as the supreme example of the creativity of our God.
Take a look around at the world, at the diversity of life forms, at the contrasting scenery within even a small country such as Wales, and then at the vastness of somewhere like the Grand Canyon, or the Himalayas. At the differences between races, and how each is suited to life within their own environment. Look at the colors of nature, the shapes and forms and then tell me that we don't have a God who knows about art in its purest form
Listen to this poem by Michel Quoist entitled Green Blackboards
The school is up-to-date
proudly, the principal tells of all the improvements.
The finest discovery, Lord, is the green blackboard.
The scientists have studied long, and they have made experiments;
We know now that green is the ideal color, that it doesn't tire the eyes, that it is quieting and relaxing.
It has occurred to me, Lord, that you didn't wait so long to paint the trees and meadows green.
Your research laboratories were efficient, and in order not to tire us, you perfected a number of shades of green for your modern meadows.
And so the 'finds' of men consist in discovering what you have known from time immemorial.
Thank you Lord, for being the good Father who gives his children the joy of discovering by themselves the treasures of his intelligence and love,
But keep us from believing that -by ourselves- we have invented anything at all.
When John the Baptist was ministering prior to the appearance of Jesus he baptized people in the river as a sign of their repentance, of wanting to turn around, make a new beginning for their lives.
But Mark's account of John's ministry concentrates our attention on the fact that there is another coming of whom John says he is not worthy enough even to take off his sandals.
The baptism of John, a baptism of water, pointed towards the baptism that Jesus would bring, and in these verses we see Jesus baptized not only with water, but with the Holy Spirit, a symbolic linking of the old and the new. The creative Spirit of God, at work in the beginning of time in the creation of the universe, is at work again in the person of Jesus, who can restore mankind to the wholeness of life which God always intended for them.
For those who believe in Jesus and are baptized in his name, we are told that there is a "new creation" as the Spirit of God works in their hearts to make them children of God.
God's creativity, present in the very act of Creation, self evident in the world in which we live, and present as well within each of us, moulding us into the people that he would have us be. For one of the marvels of creation is the individual.
Each one of us is different. Our fingerprints are different, our DNA profile is different, our personalities are different. There are millions upon millions of people in this world of our, and thousands more born each day, and each one of them is different…….. unique.
And if that isn't a testament to the love of a God who wants individuals who will respond to him in their own individual way, and not as a group of robots pre-programmed with a set response, then I don't know what is.
At the start of a new Millennium then , there is hope of a new beginning, because the same breath of God that hovered over the waters at the beginning of all things is the same Spirit who appeared as a Dove at the beginning of the New Covenant, when Jesus was acknowledged by his Heavenly Father, and is the same spirit who enters into our lives through the baptism of the Spirit, and is the same Spirit who daily shapes and moulds our lives if we will let him.
The Spirit of God, the creativity behind all new beginnings, and the Spirit of God, the sign of continuity between the first beginning and all others
It would be a shame if this celebration of a new Millennium were just an excuse for a party, and once the party was over everything went back to how it was before. There is an opportunity, both politically and within our lives, to make changes, to start again.
It is great that our own country has set a lead in the cancellation of debt, in declaring this a year of Jubilee, but it would be even greater if people would see this as an opportunity to look for a new beginning to their faith journey, that new years resolutions could include the occasional visit to a place of worship other than for births, marriages and funerals, and that the flames that were lit for bonfires and fireworks could spark a flame of faith that would grow as this year advances.
Perhaps that is the challenge for the church in this first year of the millennium, to bring that flame, the symbol of God's Spirit in the New Testament into ordinary lives around us.
May this year be a year of new beginnings for this church and all our circuit churches. That the Spirit of God may continue the work which he has begun in us as individuals, and through us ignite a flame within others.