Genesis 1: 1-5
When God began to create the heavens and the earth— 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters— 3 God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. 4 God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God named the light Day and the darkness Night.
There was evening and there was morning: the first day.
We are all familiar with famous last words spoken by people throughout history. Here are some you may have heard before, along with some you may have never heard:
“Et tu, Brute?” Assassinated. -Gaius Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor, d. 44 BC
-“That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted.” -Lou Costello, comedian, d. March 3, 1959
-“My God. What’s happened?” -Diana (Spencer), Princess of Wales, d. August 31, 1997
-“Beautiful.” In reply to her husband who had asked how she felt. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning, writer, d. June 28, 1861
-“Get my swan costume ready.” -Anna Pavlova, ballerina, d. 1931
“The best of all is, God is with us!” –John Wesley
-“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. ”From Luke 23:46 –Jesus Christ
It seems that sometimes people put a lot of emphasis on a person’s last words as they leave this world, this life. But what about first words? Either spoken by a child or an adult, or signifying something new and exciting. For example, we all know Neil Armstrong’s first words as he stepped on the moon: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Or what about Alexander Graham Bell’s first words spoken on the telephone in 1875?: “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.” The first telegraph line was sent on May 24, 1844 from the old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. by Samuel Morse to his associate on the other end of the line in Baltimore. It was a Bible verse, Numbers 23:23: “What hath God wrought?”
The first email was sent by a computer engineer, Ray Tomlinson in 1971, and it was sent accidentally. It was just “QWERTYUIOP,” sent to himself using only the top letters of the keyboard. The social media network, Twitter, had its first tweet in 2006 from Jack Dorsey, in 140 words or less of course, “Just setting up my Twitter.” Many first words are spoken to initiate amazing technologies or the beginnings of something new and transformational. And of course, first words coming from a child cause us to celebrate the beginnings of a life. I just found out this past week that my first word was “Bottle”! I wonder what that says about me?!
This Christmas, I had the opportunity to spend time with my nephew who is almost 6 months old now. He had grown so much since I had seen him in September! He’s becoming more and more like a little human every time I see him. The world around him is so new and exciting- he soaks up every little thing like a sponge. I found myself wondering what his first words would be and what kinds of words will shape him as a person as he grows.
No matter ordinary or extraordinary they are, first words announce that something new has begun. And no first words or communication at all would’ve been possible without the first words ever spoken: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The first words in the history of the world were spoken not by humans, but by God, who utters those words at the beginning of a brand new project called creation (Homiletics).
It’s obvious that the story teller of Genesis wanted to give an account of creation that people would understand. Today, it’s important for us to realize that this story of creation is not meant to be a lesson about science, but a lesson about theology- learnings about God. The opening lines of Genesis give us a good picture of an ancient world view of the earth. (Click HERE for an image!) It imagines the earth as a flat disk within a dome, supported by pillars and surrounded by chaotic waters on all sides. There was also water above the dome that was decorated with the stars, sun, and moon. It had windows that could be opened to let some water in as the rain and other precipitation.
Obviously, we do not see the earth and the universe this way today! Nonetheless, the writer of Genesis included these first words of God in this creation account: “Let there be light,” after God had swept over the darkness, the chaotic winds and waters. God separated the dark from the light and called it good. Of course, we are talking about more than just how we do laundry!
This is God speaking, and the darkness and chaos of the world are put in their places. God speaks, and the light comes forth, separating from the dark. These famous first words are good for us to hear, to speak, and to ponder as we begin this new year. They are good for us because in them we may recognize the ways in which we need to separate the light from the dark in our own lives. What are the dark things we need to get rid of in order to let there be light? What habits, things, hurtful words, or regretful actions do we need to cast aside in order for more light to enter in?
And this world certainly needs more light. This past week, we had more reports of acts of terrorism around the world, particularly the latest attack from Islamic extremists of the newspaper office in Paris that left 12 people dead, including the editor and cartoonists known for their satirical (and sometimes controversial) cartoons. The world has cried out about this attack, saying that it is not just an act of terror, but an attack on freedom of speech and artistic expression. An article from Huffington Post Religion stated that “Muslim leaders and activists immediately denounced the terrorists’ actions, reiterating the verse in the Quran that tells Muslims when one kills just one innocent person, it is as if he has killed all of humanity”
Our world is overrun with acts of violence, misunderstanding, and lack of peaceful dialogue and decision making. As Christians we are called to acts of peace, love, and forgiveness. We are called to speak these words to all, “Let there be light,” and call upon God to once again bring order to the chaos, light into the darkness, life out of death. But how difficult it really is in today’s world. Amongst my colleagues, friends, and acquaintances, we try to navigate through our feelings, thoughts, and actions on how to respond to acts of violence and those who commit them in peaceful and engaging ways. We try to educate those who may not have a full understanding of events, religions, and worldviews that differ from their own. I look around, however, and see some who instead of offering words of hope and peace, say things like, “Pray for the people of the attacks in Paris. May God’s revenge be sweet.” This is no way forward. This is no way to heal wounds or spread compassion and understanding. This is no way to give light to the dark.
We must look at ways to communicate to the world in the same way that God chose to do when these first words were spoken, “Let there be light.” We have just come through Advent and Christmas- we have seen the light that has come into the world through Jesus. Now we need to give voice to the places that are still in need of the words, “Let there be light,” whether we need to hear them in our own lives, or whether we know of people and places who might need to hear them as if for the first time. There are so many who wander in the darkness, and there are times when each of us will be in a dark place in our lives, whether it is in the past, present, or will be in the future.
While talking about her troubled life and journey of faith, writer Anne Lamott describes her walk in the dark. She describes herself as a cartoon when something gets hit and one crack appears, and then another and another until the whole vase is cracked and hangs suspending for a moment before falling to the floor in pieces (Traveling Mercies). She cites these lines from a poem by Leonard Cohen (“Anthem”):
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how light gets in.
Her words remind me that we are imperfect people with wounds, scars, and cracks. But without these things, the light cannot get in. Without God to speak these words to us, “Let there be light,” we may find ourselves always wandering in the dark. Without God’s love to piece us back together, without loving and compassionate people willing to reach out and hear us, accept us, see us for who we are, we may not feel worthy of the light. Without God’s relentless grace, we may find ourselves in broken pieces on the floor, unable to put ourselves back together.
When we hear these first words of God, so familiar to many of us, “Let there be light,” we hear words of an opening and ongoing dialogue between God and humanity. God could have chosen to remain silent. God could have chosen to leave the world as it is, void of light, organization, and beauty. But God spoke, and it was good. God spoke, and this communication, this dialogue continues today, summoning the world from chaos into community, into life, into beauty. And taking the form of Jesus, the dialogue continues. John 1says that, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…without the Word, nothing came into being…what came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.” Again, through Jesus, God speaks: “let there be light.”
There is a message that this dark and chaotic world needs to hear, and it is this: “Let there be light.” The world needs to hear a message that God spoke these words and started the whole project of the world, of life, of beauty and well-being that God intends for us. What are some ways that we as people of faith, people of this congregation can offer these first words to people who may be hearing them for the first time? What can we do, what can we use to bring people from darkness into light? God invites us to focus on a new creation and extends this invitation for us to be a part of it. God is doing something new in and through us- we are called to uphold the vows of our baptisms and to embrace the chaotic waters that God has calmed in our lives- we are called to refresh and renew, to embrace the new creation and the light, and to be children of the light, marked by our baptisms.
Today we are called to remember our baptisms. We are called to remember that we are water-marked people who are loved, cleansed, and transformed by a loving God.
In our baptisms, God calls us to be people of these first words- ready to begin anew, ready for God to create beauty out of chaos, calm out of the storm, a way forward out of winding roads. The first words of God are also our first words: Let there be light- may these be our words of promise and hope as we gather at the font of the healing waters of our lives. Amen.
Prayer over the water:
Eternal God, when nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah you saved those on the ark through water. After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow. When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt, you led them to freedom through the sea. Their children you brought through the Jordan to the land which you promised. In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb. He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit. He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations. Pour out your Holy Spirit, and by this gift of water call to our remembrance the grace declared to us in our baptism. For you have washed away our sins, and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives. Call us to the font once again, that we may remember and never forget your unending waves of grace. Amen.
Remember your baptism and be thankful.