January 10th 2021

Genesis 1:1-5

New Revised Standard Version

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath

1In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

In the beginning…

In the beginning God created…

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

Somehow, it seems appropriate at the beginning of a new year to be reflecting upon the first few verses of the Bible, particularly because the text reminds us that God created order out of chaos, that he brought light into a dark world, and that he breathed life into a formless and otherwise void creation.

At a time when everything we have known feels as though it has been turned upside down, where the darkness of night seems to spread its tentacles, reaching in to the very core of our being, life as we know it is a struggle that, for some, is becoming increasingly hard to bear. Long ago, into just such a world, God brought order, light, and life. He did it again in the birth of his Son, Jesus more than two thousand years ago, and is doing it still by the power of his Spirit, the same spirit that breathed over the face of the waters as described in the book of Genesis.

In the beginning, as God was, he is still now, bringing light and breathing life into souls wounded by the trials of this current life. At the beginning of another new year, particularly one such as this, it is good to be reminded that the constancy of God’s love and care has not diminished over the course of time.

In the beginning… “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Whilst the text here refers to “wind”, the translation comes from the Hebrew word ‘ruach’, which can be translated to mean wind, breath, or spirit. So, this wind, this breath that swept over the waters was the very Spirit of God; a Spirit that embodied the power of God. From the beginning of time, the Spirit of God has been present on earth, enlivening, empowering, and enriching.

This Spirit is a creative force, forming “man from the dust of the ground” breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen.2:7). It is the same Spirit that empowered and anointed Jesus at the time of his baptism, described for us by Mark. “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ ” (Mark 1:10-11). It was this same Spirit Jesus was talking about when Nicodemus asked him what it meant to be born again (John 3:3-15).

Nicodemus struggled with this concept of being born again, as do many people even still today. For those who may still struggle with the concept, perhaps I can offer you an illustration that helps me to understand it.

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, I recall a journalist interviewing one of the survivors, trying to understand how she and those like her must now be feeling. Her response made an impact on me that I have never forgotten. I rather suspect that those who were listening to the interview expected her to be feeling relieved that she had survived, especially when so many had been tortured and killed. Wanting to know what she now hoped for, she said. “I want to be alive-alive. At the moment, I am dead-alive, but I want to feel alive-alive.” What she was describing was, what I am sure many people feel in times of bereavement. Part of her soul felt dead. A large part of her life and history had been wiped out and she was left feeling empty. She no longer wanted to feel that way and longed for the day when she could once more feel alive- really alive.

Now, I am not saying that without the presence of the Holy Spirit we are dead, but in describing what it meant to be born again, what Jesus was explaining was something akin to being “alive-alive”. The first time we become aware of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives is revelatory. It is indeed like feeling alive in a new or fuller way. It feels a bit like being born again because we see life differently from that point on. More importantly, filled with God’s Spirit we are able to see his world and our place in it much more clearly. The Spirit of God, first described for us in the book of Genesis is as enlivening today as it was back them, for God’s Spirit is still changing lives; bringing life and encouragement to tired and weary souls and offering comfort and hope to hearts broken by pain or shame. In the beginning, God’s Spirit was, and still is enlivening.

From the beginning, God’s Spirit was empowering. Having breathed life into Adam, and then Eve, God empowered them to live for him, tending the land, caring for His creation, allowing them the freedom to make decisions, good or bad. Through them, God taught us that freedom not only comes with responsibility, the choices we are free to make have consequences too, consequences we each have to live with.

Some of us long for what we refer to as the “simple life”, but life as we know it has always been rather a complex issue. We rarely live in total isolation. In fact, if recent times have taught us nothing else it has revealed to us all how difficult and painful it can be to live in isolation. The life of a hermit is not for everyone, and nor should it be. Physical distancing has highlighted how important we are to one another – be we family, friend, colleague or stranger. Like it or not, we need each other, and it seems to me that the Spirit of God has been more overtly at work in our lives and in the heart of our communities.

Throughout Scotland, congregations have been empowered to seek alternative means by which to express their faith, both in worship and in action. Without God at the helm and His Spirit empowering us, none of the things we now do for Him would have been possible. Being deprived of our customary means of worship and service has revealed to us that which is important. Missing fellowship with one another, we have made greater efforts to keep in touch. Having given us an insight into what life must have been like for those who were housebound prior to the virus has opened our eyes to struggles we could never before have imagined. But more importantly, such knowledge has empowered us as a community of faith to be far more active in service. It has humbled us into realising how much that even the little we can do brings comfort and assurance to those who have found themselves on the margins of church life, most especially those who for years have had to live in relative isolation, be that due to health, financial or emotional reasons. God’s Spirit, as it has done since time began, has opened our eyes to the needs of those around us and empowered us to seek ways to restore and revitalise our connections to each other.

In the beginning…

In the beginning God created…

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…

In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

In the beginning… a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

As it was then, it is now. God is with us, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer

Creator God, who was, and is, and is to come; we thank you for the hope we find in the scriptures preserved for us by the saints of old. They recognised the need to record your interaction with the world, that future generations may know the extent of your love for them. We give thanks for their faith, for their willingness to share the insights they gained of your presence throughout eternity. Today we give thanks for the gift of your Holy Spirit, for the life and hope it gives, and for the power it enables us to draw upon when times are hard. May we draw on your strength daily, and be reminded that with you, nothing is impossible. God of the past, the present, and the future, may we be forever grateful for your merciful and loving presence, for the sake of Jesus who gave his all that we might live. Amen.

Please click on the link below to listen to Holy Spirit, Living breath of God sung by Kristyn Getty

Holy Spirit, Living breath of God