A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Baptism of Our Lord – January 8, 2006
Text: Genesis 1:1-5
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the beginning, the Bible tells us, God created everything. Heavens – he created them; earth – that, too, he created. Everything you see when you look around you, and many things you can’t, all had their beginning in those six days of God’s labor, when he made everything there is from nothing at all.
Actually, that’s not quite right. I know it’s how you’ve always heard the creation story, and it’s how I told it to you just two weeks ago: God made everything ex nihilo, out of nothing, out of thin air. And although I’m sure he did, if we look closely at those first five verses of Genesis, there’s a surprise for us: that’s not how the creation story begins! At the start of the six days of creation, there’s something.
It’s not much of a something, I’ll give you that much – what’s there at the beginning is an empty, shapeless, watery void. “The deep,” the narrator of Genesis names it. At the very beginning of God’s work of creation, we find not nothing, but instead this dark, vast sea, over which God’s spirit is restlessly sweeping.
And to modern folks like you and I, this seems like a pretty small distinction. Whether God’s first recorded words fell on sheer emptiness or the foaming waves of a black sea, it doesn’t mean much to us. But the ancient people who wrote down Genesis as a history of God and their relationship with him would have understood immediately what the deep, deep waters meant: they meant that God didn’t just create from nothing – he started from a handicap!
We need to pause here for a moment and think like ancient people, living on the edge the land. Every day of our lives, we live uneasily, looking out over a vast sea that stretches our farther than we can see or even imagine. Yes, the shallowest parts are a source of life for us when we let down our nets, but as much as she gives, the sea can take away when storms roll in across the waters. The small things that you and I are able to build on that shore are no match for the powerful wind and crushing waves that an angry sea tosses up.
If only the sea were merely nothing – emptiness, stillness, tranquility! But no. When we turn our minds back a few thousand years, we start to understand that the sea was much more terrible, much more dangerous than that. In ancient times, the deep, open waters were a symbol of chaos – the power to tear down and destroy, to crumble and wash away. Many people actually imagined that the sea was a monster, a great chaos beast which gnawed away at all the hard-won achievements of humankind, trying to drag us back into the muck.
Do you see now how much more awesome God is than we ever suspected? If it was marvelous that he might create this world from scratch, what if he could actually start with less than nothing? What if he could take the very forces that work to destroy, and with a single word, tame them? What if God could turn their power backward, so that land rose from that chaotic sea and light appeared in the midst of that darkness? It’s all there in Genesis – God’s Spirit hovering unafraid over the face of chaos, and then creation begins.
Once you understand what a powerful symbol the sea was to our ancestors, you can’t help noticing how our God tames it for them, again and again. Our God doesn’t stop at the sea’s borders – he parts it. Our God doesn’t tremble at the sea’s storming – he calms it. Our God doesn’t run from the sea in fear – he walks across it in confidence. And in baptism, our God returns to his very first act of creation, defying death and destruction to draw a new creature from their troubled waters.
In other words, our God is exactly the kind of God we still need today.
There is plenty of chaos in our lives, I know. We probably don’t imagine it as a stormy sea – we have other names for it. Some of you know chaos as the daily rat race. Others hear the word and you immediately think of the terrible twos. That old power of chaos nibbles away at our marriages and friendships until it seems almost inevitable that two people will grow apart with time. Chaos rears its ugly head in the wars that take children as gladly as soldiers, and in the dreadful diseases that always seem just about to steal away everything and everyone we love. Yes, you and I know all about chaos.
That’s why Genesis 1 isn’t just a nice story to us, or nothing more than a bit of evidence in the debate over evolution. Genesis 1isn’t merely a history of what God once did – to all of us who face the powers of uncreation every single day, the first chapter of Genesis is our hope that God can bring with a word a new creation out of our chaos, as well. It’s a reminder to us that wherever there is disorder and confusion, God’s Spirit hovers very near, preparing us for a creative word from God that will turn everything around.
Most of all, the story of God’s power over chaos points us always back to the waters of our baptism, when he first started turning around the power of sin and death within us, forcing back the chaos of our fear and confusion to reveal the solid ground of faith in Jesus Christ.
My friends, this life is full of disorder, full of chaos. Do not be afraid of it – your God is the God who creates beautiful things out of chaos. Trust him. He knows how to tame this stormy sea…and he will certainly do it.
Wait and see.