In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made that has been made.
Whilst Matthew chooses to begin his birth narrative with a statement of genealogical descent from Abraham, Luke chooses to begin with the promise of the Baptist, and John echoes Torah.
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. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
I’m intrigued that the roots of the Johannine ‘birth’ narrative lie here. I think that it’s more than just a statement about pre-existence, but also about what the coming of Messiah means.
Firstly, there is the Advent of LIGHT, piercing the darkness of the formless and empty earth. The story seems to be that God brought into being the cosmos but that it is characterised by emptiness, and formlessness, awaiting the artist’s hand, his creative breath, bringing order to the darkness and emptiness. In Hebrew, formless and void is tohu wabohu meaning ‘trackless desert’ a place where someone could easily get lost. But now, since the coming of Jesus, a Light is shining.
Secondly, for the ancient Hebrews, the waters were always the symbol of chaos and destruction.
Creation in Genesis is seen in its close relationship to chaos. Look what God does, as recorded in Gen 1:3-9. He separates light from the primeval darkness and calls them ‘day’ and ‘night’ then separates the chaotic waters by an ‘expanse’ which he calls sky. By this command there is then ‘the waters above’ and ‘the waters below’.
It is surely significant that the watery chaos is not destroyed; rather the primeval sea surrounds the habitable earth on every hand. Were it not for the Creator’s power, by which the firmament was created and the sea assigned boundaries, the earth would be engulfed by the flowing together of the waters and would return to primeval chaos (cf Gen 7:11; 8:2). This is poetic language to describe the true state of the creation.
We are only one step away from utter chaos. If God removed his care and grace creation would revert to chaos then nothingness.
In suggesting that the earth is resting on the sea, Israel had in mind something other than the chemistry of water. The ‘chaos and desolation’ of Gen 1:2 is not just a statement about primeval times; it is a statement about a present possibility, according to Bernard Anderson.
Today, we’re all aware of this depth, this abyss. The anxiety over global warming. The threat of pandemics. The apparent ever-present threat of terrorism and war. The private anxieties of meaninglessness. All these are characteristic of the fear of chaotic forces that threaten to overwhelm our secure world.
The reality for us is that were it not for the gracious, sustaining command of God these forces would overflow their assigned boundaries and plunge us once again in to the void.
But to believe in a Creator God is to say with the Psalmist, in the face of calamity:
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
And the great truth of Advent is that as we prepare again for his coming, we need reminded that it was the birth of the Baby that enables us to face the world in hope. In Jesus the risky, threatening contingency of life is removed. Now those enemies which threatened to overwhelm us are destroyed entirely, not just kept at bay. And the last enemy is death itself.
So this Advent, however deep our darkness. Whatever the mess in which we find ourselves, however trackless our personal desert, take encouragement from the God who brought light into the chaos of that first creation.
But how much more is there life, direction and hope in the Advent of the Word made flesh.
This is the first of my Advent Posts for the Johannine Advent Blog project hosted by Brother Maynard. Participating bloggers are: