In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Our bibles begin with the strange dark picture of a watery world without form: empty; void; chaos. How did it get there? How long has it been like that? We are not told; only that there is nothing there but a deep darkness.
But it is a beginning, because God is beginning to create. God’s Spirit is there, God’s breath, God’s wind is blowing, and a voice sounds out over the waters from out of nowhere:
“Let there be light!” and there was light.”
God then separated the light from the darkness: again we wonder, how? There is no open space of sky that has yet been created, no land has yet been made, no sun yet. Light without sun? Separation of light and dark without space between them? Perhaps we are to think below the surface and see that essential separation of light from darkness as the first step God always takes in creation.
Is the light goodness and the darkness evil? Is that the essential separation? Is that what God’s presence does when God creates the conditions for life – distinguishes evil from good? Without making that difference, between light and darkness, there is only anarchy and chaos. Life in those conditions cannot be good. So God begins by creating light, and separating the darkness.
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.
The End like the Beginning
There will be another day, we are told in the book of Revelation, when God will make a new heavens and a new earth. When that new creation comes, just like on the first day of the first creation, there will be light, without the need of a sun. No evil will be there anymore. It will be good again.
But between the first and final creation, there have been many dark nights, and many dark days.
It is “the people who have walked in darkness,” Isaiah said, who finally will “see a great light,” but it has been a long dark walk.
They say the easiest sermons to preach are the ones about how bad the world is. Once you start thinking about the darkness all around us, the wars, the terrorists, the brutal repressive regimes, the drug gangs, and about the evil that is much closer to us, the unfaithfulness, the deceptions, the cruel words and broken relationships, you can keep up a diatribe that lasts all day. It has been a long dark walk.
But the God who made the original separation of light from darkness made a world that was essentially good, not evil; and God’s constant desire, ever after, has been to bring goodness out of evil.
So instead of abandoning the world to its darkness, God has found ways to enter the darkness. God’s Spirit, God’ breath, God’s wind has never been reluctant to blow into dark places. God has always known that our only hope is that by some means, God must be with us.
God with Israel in Wilderness
God was with the Israelites in the wilderness over many dark years. They worshiped him at the tabernacle, the tent shrine made of heavy curtains. It was like a mobile temple that they could set up and take down on their long journey through the wilderness to the Jordan River, the border of the promised land.
There were curtains that formed the outside edges of the tabernacle, curtains that separated the holy place inside, and another curtain separating the holy of holies. Behind that last curtain was the ark of the covenant where God’s presence was invisibly enthroned between the wings of the two cherubim.
Solomon’s Temple Curtain
Years later, when Solomon built the permanent temple, it’s walls were solid, except for one: there remained one curtain, the final separation marking the boundary of the holy of holies.
There is something essential and important about God being behind a curtain, and something odd and troublesome. God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. God is holy. Of course God’s sacred, holiness must be separate from the profane world of human evil and darkness. That much is essential and important.
God behind a Curtain, or in Heaven
But the God who stays behind a curtain is hardly “with” people in the ultimate sense. The God behind the curtain is not with them close enough to wipe away tears. His nearness is oddly out of reach; that much is troublesome. Perhaps behind the curtain, his light is less illuminating.
The Israelites, of course, understood that God was not contained in the temple. But the only other way they could think of God was to imagine him up in heaven. The earthly temple was thought of as a small replica of the heavenly throne-room where God sat as King of the Universe.
The distance between heaven and earth is large, and they felt every inch of it. The prophet cried out,
“ O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1)
Tearing Open the Heavens
One day God did tear open the heavens and come down. This is exactly the way Mark describes what happened that day Jesus came to the Jordan river to be baptized. Listen again to the way Mark describes the scene:
10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Into the darkness God’s Spirit again plunges down after tearing open the heavens. It is a new first day of a new creation. Again a voice is heard over the waters, announcing what has happened. God’s Son has been anointed by the Spirit to be Messiah.
God is With us
Now God is with his people – all the way with them. Not up in the heavens a long way away. He is all the way in their world with them – soaking wet with the water that they have been baptized in. He is with them in the water that has washed their sins; he is close enough to wipe tears – close enough to shed tears. The separation is over. The distance has been brought near.
Jesus has been anointed by the Spirit for his ministry of announcing the Kingdom of God. It is not finished yet. It is like the moment at which the prophet Samuel anointed David as king to replace Saul. David was anointed but could not take the throne until Saul’s resistance forces had been overcome.
Jesus has been anointed by the Spirit, and now his ministry of overcoming the resistance forces of the evil one has begun. There are still dark days that remain between the anointing and the final triumph.
How will the victory over darkness be achieved? The beloved Son of God who began his ministry down in the baptismal waters of our humanity and sinfulness, finally overcomes evil by allowing it to exhaust its dark powers on him. He finally absorbs all of the evil as he is lifted up on a cross.
Listen as Mark describes that moment:
37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Another tearing open, another voice of acclamation, and now the final separation has been eliminated. God is with us.
As the book of Revelation puts it,
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with people, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)
Baptized with Christ
We have been baptized into Christ, into Messiah. We have been buried with him by baptism into his death and raised to walk in new life, to walk in
the light as he is in the light. We are now to live in communion with him, close enough to let him dry our tears.
And close enough to see his tears. Close enough to weep with him for the darkness that remains. Close enough to experience the blessedness of those who mourn for the suffering that darkness causes.
We have been baptized into his ministry to humans, and we have also been anointed with his Spirit. He is with us here and now, and with us, by his empowering Spirit, as we venture out in services of mercy and compassion.
He is with us as we gather at table. He is with us in the bread and in the cup, giving himself to us again, by his powerful Spirit. He is with us as we come to recognize that those feasting with us are indeed members of the body of Christ.
He is with us, sending us out to be the body of Christ in the world.