Please read Genesis 1:1-15 and Mark 1:4-11
I have to confess this time of year is a bit of a let down for me: The twelve days of Christmas are over. Today I spent a couple of hours taking down and packing away the outdoor lights. We’ve started dismantling the Christmas tree. The wrapping paper is boxed and stored for next year. And when I drive around town I see Christmas trees discarded on the road and curb sides. The colours and lights and festive decor has been transformed to …. grey and drab. Hello to the dog days of winter. At least a couple of months yet till Spring.
It makes the “happy” in “Happy New Year!” a bit hard to swallow.
And yet this time of year for Christians is a time for hope. During this very ordinary and downer of a time, we are called to pay attention. Because God is up to something!
Donald Miller wrote in his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” a true story about Bob whose children were bored on New Year’s Day. “It must be the most boring holiday in the whole year!” his children complained as they sat around in their living room. So Bob asked them what they could do to make it more exciting. They could buy a pony; they could build a rocket ship; they could be in a parade.
A parade! Bob jumped on the idea (he was probably happy to get out of having to buy a pony). What could they do to make it an exciting parade? They could wear costumes, hold balloons, and invite everyone on the street to a BBQ in their back yard afterwards (they live in the San Diego area, not Canada, after all!).
Before they went out to recruit participants, Bob suggested they ask everyone to be in the parade, not just watch it. And surprisingly, plenty of the neighbourhood agreed to be in the parade! And a dozen or so even stayed afterwards for the BBQ in Bob’s back yard.
What is truly amazing about this story is that Bob’s children created something out of nothing. From a perceived state of boredom, they created a tradition that has over the past ten years now blossomed into a major annual event in the San Diego area. Even residents who have moved since that first New Year’s Day parade come back and schedule holidays around January 1st.
What a wonderful illustration of the generative and creative power human beings hold — a reflection of the nature of God to create something out of nothing. In the opening verses of the bible we learn about a major tenet of the Christian theology: God speaks creation into being … out of nothing, absolutely nothing, “the void” as the bible expresses.
The good news pronounces a word of hope that it is especially and repeatedly spoken into the parched places of our lives. God breathes something new; a seed is planted in those places of our lives that we feel bored, lonesome, lost, burdened. A new creation is being born in the midst of the drab, ordinary, daily humdrum of living. Do you see it?
When I was in my 20s I spent a year abroad in Germany. It was the first time I was away for a significant length of time from my twin brother, parents, country, language, and anything that was familiar to me. At first I found it extremely tough to bear. I dipped into the doldrums and found hard to keep my spirits up.
In the midst of the turmoil a friend I met there gave me this bible verse. He framed it for me; I’ve kept it on my wall ever since. It’s from Isaiah 58 — “The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places …” (v.11)
It is not just in the spectacular, festive and holiday events; it is not just in the high worship services when the candles are lit, the trumpets are sounding and hundreds of worshippers are singing praises; it is not just in those mountaintop experiences that validate the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. More to the point, it is what happens AFTER where the rubber hits the road of our faith journeys.
What happens AFTER the glorious birth of Jesus is how in the season of Epiphany Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, the Saviour of the whole world. It is what happens AFTER the angels sing when the reality of faith gets played out over time. And it isn’t always quaint and pretty.
Herod wants to kill the baby Jesus. Listening to the messenger of God the holy family flees to Egypt. They have to leave the country for some time until Herod’s violent energies are expended. And what a tragedy: baby boys murdered in Bethlehem to satisfy some megalomaniac and paranoid impulses of an evil dictator. The Epiphany stories begin on a rather sordid, conflicted note, wouldn’t you say?
And yet it is precisely in this drama where the revelation of God in our lives begins. It is in those “nothing” moments: when bad things happen; when we get bad news; when we honestly struggle through issues — those are the moments our eyes are open to see God creating something new out of nothing.
We sometimes assume, I think, that those people who have the Holy Spirit are perpetually happy, bubbly and glowing with warmth. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is often associated with glory, and things ‘spiritual’, things removed from the ordinariness of life.
We are called not to be glib and fake in our spirituality. We are called to be real, honest and authentic human beings. The Spirit of the living God is just as present in those hard circumstances as much as in the easy times, but always breathing new life, hope and promise.
The Holy Spirit “tore apart” the sky (Mark 1:10). Birds sometimes dive-bomb to the earth, you know; birds don’t always just gently float on the air. There’s a realness that permeates the Gospel text for today: there’s water, clothing from camel’s hair, a diet from bugs, tying sandals, etc. These details speak of the earthiness of the spiritual life. Spirit and material are combined in the Christ.
God’s voice creates out of nothing. What we may perceive as nothing, as boring, as depleted of all life and energy, pay attention: God may just be in that ‘nothing’ making something. And what God speaks creates something unimaginably beautiful, exciting, meaningful and truly happy.
What is the Spirit of God working in your life today? How is God revealed to you in the ordinary time of this season? Even in the dead of winter when all is frozen, God comes to us and is revealed to us in love, in power and in grace.