“In the beginning…”
This is how to start your sermon, Working Preachers. It makes so much sense, on so many levels. “In the beginning” — before the world was created. “In the beginning” — of the church year. “In the beginning” — of the New Year, 2016. “In the beginning” — of God’s new beginning as the Word made flesh.
Three words, full of memory and of promise. And on January 3, 2016, memory and promise are the words we need to hear.
“In the beginning.” It’s a phrase full of the past, yet gives witness to potential and possibility. These words reset our lives, our perspective. They remind us that God is creator and that in Jesus God was not yet done with creation. This is the reminder we need post-Christmas, the start of the New Year, and the good news we need to hear when the anticipation of a new year cannot fully erase or change the past year. In the midst of political rhetoric, global unrest, national fear, and communal distrust, perhaps a restart is in order, not to forget, but to confess that our God is always about new beginnings.
Of course for John, this phrase is meant to make clear Jesus’ origins, where Jesus comes from, and the meaning of Jesus as the Word made flesh in the world — that Jesus was in the beginning with God, part of creation with God, and that Jesus’ presence will create new life in abundance.
To preach on the promise of this phrase will know no limits. What is John up to here? A return to the garden? Reconciliation? New life? Solidarity with humanity? All of the above? I think so and more.
God as flesh means God gets flesh. God will never give up on what God created. God realized that humanity has to experience recreation on a regular basis. Otherwise, life is too much about death.
God becoming human is “in the beginning” in its fullest form. It is light once again. It is the goodness of humanity once again. It is God recreating God’s very self because that is who God is and that is what we will be as believers — reborn children of God.
We all need new beginnings. But they are never possible in a vacuum, as if the past can be set aside, forgotten, for the sake of the new. This is the proclamation of these three words. God says new things, is new things, but we have to go back to the beginning to realize just how new and just how amazing this all is.
We have a tendency to eschew the old in favor of the new. To think that nothing can be gained from the past. That reformation is some sort of conversion and not rethinking or reinterpretation. And a lot of us settle for reinvention. “In the beginning” cannot devolve into a rejection of the old because the new is so much better. The need for new creation is lodged in God’s truth that new creation is essential to the world, essential to God’s character, and essential to how God wants to be in the world.
“In the beginning” is the promise of the continuity and the consistency of God.
And we need that promise — the promise of God’s commitment to recreating God’s very self, our selves, and the world. Recreation means that you trust in creation — God’s creation, God’s creative activity, and who you were created to be. Too often we let go of what and who we were so as to be something entirely new. But to carry forward our past for the sake of our present and future makes possible reconciliation with who we thought we were, who we now are, and who we are called to be.
You likely need to hear these words as well, Dear Working Preachers. “In the beginning” sets off all kinds of hopes for what could be, doesn’t it? — in your ministry, in your preaching. It triggers wishes for different, intentions for correction, and hopes for betterment. It certainly did for those who would encounter Jesus in John’s Gospel. And, we are no different. Yet God’s “in the beginning” is not simply a reset or change so as to disregard the present or the past. “In the beginning” is the assurance that our hopes for recreation are not dependent solely on us. They are made possible because that’s what believing in God means. Our recreation is not limited to our own merits because God went first.
“In the beginning” is the promise of recreation, a promise we know to be true because God recreated God’s very self. This is the very nature of God, and since we are God’s witnesses, God’s followers, God’s preachers, we proclaim that God’s recreation abounds, even in the face of people, situations, and the world’s circumstances that would seek to prove otherwise.
Today is a new Genesis, friends. Let’s live into that rebirth together.