Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-13
And then there’s the word “swept.” Other translations say “moved” or “blew” or even “brooded,” but it can also mean to “flutter” or “dance,” perhaps we might say to “shimmy.” The line gives a sense of something vibrant and fertile and gentle from God that playfully tickles the face of the great deep. The act of creation is an act of joy and merriment, a work of wonder and curiosity, a labor of love. There is no cataclysm or upheaval, no violent acts of disruptive power; only the peaceful but dramatic image of God speaking into the darkness.
That is a drastic departure from the Babylonian narrative of creation, where the world is created in violence and baptized in blood. The book of Genesis was written down during the Babylonian Exile by people struggling to retain their faith and identity as people of God. As their neighbors recounted Marduk’s glorious and bloody victory over Tiamat to explain the world around them, the Israelites shared the story of God’s delicate and even whimsical dance at the beginning of creation. Where their Babylonian captors saw a world of to be brutally and violently subdued, the Israelites looked deeper to see the beauty and goodness of what God had made. Instead of killing a sea monster while creating the world, God made one, simply for the fun of it (Ps 104.26).
Mark presents the baptism of Jesus as an act of creation. Like the story of Genesis, it is affectionate and fantastical, suffused with life and love and possibility. The world began in water, and so does the good news of Jesus Christ. Initially, God separated the waters from the waters with the heavens. There’s another poetic detail in the Hebrew of Genesis that escapes our ears in English is that heaven--shamayyim—rhymes with water--mayyim. In Mark’s story, as the heavens are torn open and the Spirit of God once again descends on the waters, we are reminded of the act of creation as shamayyim once again meets mayyim. The scene dramatically shows us that God is at work doing something amazing; and this dripping wet man coming up out of the water immediately joins God in that amazing thing God is doing.
More than that, the story is a hopeful testimony to the work that God is still doing. We say that after God had created everything, God stepped back to take it all in and declared that it was very good. Then, on the seventh day, God rested; God did not retire, did not leave, did not quit, God rested. The story implies that on the eighth day—the first day of the new week—God picked right back up and got back to work creating, got right back to making what was very good even better. This creation story is echoed throughout the gospels, where on the eighth day—the first day of the week—God’s Son got up and did the very same thing. Though he had died, he did not retire, did not quit, did not leave; he stood up and continued on because God’s work was not yet finished.
It’s true that there is much that is wrong with the world. Anyone can see the evil that constantly threatens to destroy us, always worming its way into human hearts and human deeds like the waves of the primordial deep constantly chewing away at the shoreline. But unlike the Babylonians and their violent gods who overcame violence with violence, who ruled with force and might, our God shows us that though death and chaos surround us, life continues. The life that God has created—the life that God has given to us—is not overcome by evil and death. The life of God shared with us in baptism is life that keeps getting up, rolling away the stone, and fluttering over the face of the dark and chaotic deep.
We gather here as God’s baptized to be reminded of this. We come here on the first day of the week to hear again the stories of God’s good creation, to renew ourselves at the font of God’s promises, to be sustained with the life of God’s Son at this table, and then, as at our baptism, we are sent out once more into the wilderness, filled with the Holy Spirit. Our worship here is preparation for life outside these walls, rehearsal for the eternal reign of God.
God’s work of creation is not done; God is still creating, still bringing life and order out of death and chaos, still proclaiming the world to be very good. Washed in the water over which God’s Spirit broods, we are the place where shamayyim and mayyim meet; God’s presence within this community—within us—and our presence within God’s world are part of God’s continuing work of creation, bringing life and light out of death and darkness.
This is what it means when we say that, in baptism, God saves us. Salvation is not being assured of a place in heaven (though that may be a part of it), but rather being assured of a place on earth. Salvation is the promise that God has something for us to contribute to the redemption of this beautiful and broken world we call home. God saves us by bringing us together into this community where we might bear witness to what God is doing.