This sermon was delivered Sunday, 1/8/2012.
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.
“In the Beginning” … It’s such a perfect way to begin the Bible, isn’t it? Those first three words carry with them such tension, such promise of the incredible story to come. How did we get here? How did all this come into being… that is the great mystery that all peoples of every culture and religion have been trying to answer since the beginning…and this is the way our story starts.
“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…” It sounds like the start of an epic adventure, doesn’t it? It’s mysterious and dark, there is a formless void, which is something that’s hard to fathom, and there’s that slightly ominous image of ‘the deep.’
But it’s not completely still, because ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.’ So, what is intriguing about these first few sentences in the Bible is that while it is the story of creation, we are told that there was already something there before God starts the creative process. There was water and wind… and there was darkness…and, of course, there was God.
The first thing God does is to call light into being. God says ‘let there be light’ and there is light. God speaks and creates something new, something good, but there cannot be light without darkness to counteract it, and while we may at first assume that because light was good, darkness was bad, that is not necessarily true. God creates by speaking, calling the light day and the darkness night, and it is clear that one could not exist without the other.
That was the first day.
The first day…it’s interesting, isn’t it, that God didn’t just make everything at once. She took her time, created each aspect of the world with care and intention. One assumes that if God is all-powerful, then God could have chosen to create everything with a divine snap of the fingers, called it good and been done. But that’s not the way the story goes. God takes time to create, and time to reflect as well, seeing what had been created, and each day proclaiming it good before moving on to the next thing.
I think this signals to us, as listeners of this ancient story, that creation is a process, perhaps even a process without a finished product. It is a long-term project, always in the process of becoming what it is meant to be. Volcanoes erupt, creating islands…tectonic plates shift, separating continents…rivers slowly wash away rock to form canyons…forests burn and new forests are born…
We are also co-creators with God, and when I say we, I don’t just mean people, I mean all the subjects of God’s creation—people, volcanoes, trees and birds—we each have our own part to play in the continuing, continuous, creation of God.
During Bible Study this week, we talked about the poetry of this passage, and of this whole version of the creation story, what a beautiful way it is to tell the story of creation. We also talked about the folks who want to be able to take this story literally, who are convinced that the world was actually created in exactly seven days…how sad it is for them that they spend so much energy trying to prove it’s literally true that they miss the real truth entirely.
I won’t pretend to know the whole point of this story being told this way, but I feel sure that one thing that is vitally important is that creation is a process that requires reflection and evaluation along the way.
God creates something, and sees that it is good before he moves on to create the next thing. It’s not the exact timeframe that matters, it’s that there is one in the first place.
So, there was darkness and a void, and wind, and then one day, there was light. The darkness was necessary for the light to come into being. God names both—the light is named day and the darkness is named night, because God knew that they were both important.
What do we do in the dark? Well, the most basic thing is, we sleep. Our bodies are made to prefer darkness for sleeping, and during sleep, our brains work through things, our bodies heal and grow, and we are rejuvenated. Without sleep, we would die. Without darkness, we wouldn’t recognize light.
I often tell the story of how, in my first year in Berkeley, there was not one cloudy day between the time I arrived in August and Thanksgiving. It was sunny and warm and beautiful every single day. Thanksgiving week, I came down with the most terrible flu.
As I lay there on the couch, miserably sick, forced to miss classes and fun, I had a bit of a revelation. I had gotten so sick because my body was telling me it was time to slow down. The sun and beautiful, unchanging weather had made me feel like I needed to be on the go and busy all the time, and I was used to the changing seasons signaling a time to change routine.
In Minnesota, where I grew up, the seasons change dramatically, and when the days start getting shorter in the fall, and the air gets colder, your behavior changes. The changing light signals a time to go deeper, to stay inside more, to slow down the frantic pace of summer and ease into the deeper, quieter, cozy pace of winter.
I decided, in my fevered haze, that my body had been waiting and waiting for me to start that transition, and when I didn’t, it decided to force me to rest by knocking me down with the flu. Light might signify productivity, but darkness signifies rest and healing.
Now, there can be other kinds of darkness in our lives. The darkness of depression, of grief, of anger…and as human beings, we often want to get out of that darkness as quickly as possible, rushing through too fast to see what the benefits of it might be.
But sometimes the darkness can teach us a lot about who we are and what we need. It can bring revelations and healing if we are able to sit with it, to work our way through it, instead of burying it or denying it or covering it up with temporary solutions.
Just as it may not have taken exactly one day for light to be created, it may take a long time for us to find the light in our times of darkness, but we can still be creating and evolving through that darkness. The important thing is not to find the light as quickly as possible, but just to keep working through the dark, knowing the light will eventually be called into being.
Instead of focusing on that formless void, focus on the wind of God sweeping over the waters. Instead of feeling helpless in the dark, focus on the fact that you are a co-creator with God—in the world, and in your own life. And when change or light does come, take time to look, to reflect, and to recognize it as good.