Creation Stories

A Reflection on Genesis 8:1-9:1 — A Homily for ADOTS Morning Prayer (1/8/2021)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You’ve almost certainly heard it said that the Bible is less a book than it is a library.  Like every generalization, this one is both true and false.  The Bible feels like a library because it has sixty-six volumes of varying genres by multiple authors written over millennia:  so, library it is.  And yet, we insist that all these volumes, all these genres, all these authors, over all that time tell a single story:  the story of God in relationship with God’s own triune self and with his creation — with all that is God and with all that is not God.  So, book it is, with all the volumes bound together:  leather and thin paper, gold edges and ribbon markers.

What evidence backs our claim that the Bible is a single story?  Much, in fact, but I’ll mention only one piece of literary evidence this morning:  the prevalence of various leitmotifs running throughout the Bible, recurring themes that bind the individual works into an integrated whole, into a single story.  One such leitmotif is the recurring theme of creation.

The Old Testament begins with the creation story:

Genesis 1:1–2 (ESV): 1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 

The New Testament — John’s Gospel — also includes a creation story, thus binding these two major divisions of the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, together in a single story:

John 1:1–5 (ESV): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

But, there are many other creation accounts in the Bible, too, accounts that continue to reinforce the unity of the story.  It doesn’t take great insight or imagination to see both the Annunciation/Nativity event and Pentecost as creation accounts.  One obvious “clue” is the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit:  spirit, wind, breath.  In Genesis, the Spirit of God was hovering over — brooding over — the empty earth, almost as if incubating it.  Then, in St. Luke’s Gospel, when Mary asks the angel Gabriel how she, a virgin, can conceive, he responds:

Luke 1:35 (ESV): “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 

It is the same imagery in both accounts, creation and Annunciation:  the Spirit hovering over, brooding over that which is empty, acting to bring forth life.

And, at Pentecost?

Acts 2:1–4 (ESV): 2 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. 

There it is again:  the Holy Spirit hovering over, brooding over this small band of disciples, then blowing through the place where they were gathered, breathing into them and filling them, creating the Church.

All of these are creation accounts with John and Luke consciously echoing the theme from Moses to say that this, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, is one story, the story of God creating and relating to his creation.

And that, at last, brings me to the Old Testament lesson appointed for this morning:  Genesis 8, which I extended through Genesis 9:1.  This, too, is a creation account.  Just consider how the story is bracketed.  First, this:

Genesis 8:1 (ESV): 8 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. 

There he is again, the Spirit of God — the wind — hovering over, brooding over, the face of the deep.  Then, closing out this part of the account:

Genesis 9:1 (ESV): God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 

And we are right back in the Garden, with God blessing Adam and Eve, a clear connection between these two accounts:  Spirit and blessing bracketing the story of Noah, just as in the creation account.

So, let’s recap.  I’ve begun to make the case that creation is a leitmotif running throughout the Bible, binding the individual accounts together into a single, unified story of God creating and relating to his creation.  I have connected these several accounts:  the “first” creation in Genesis, Noah and the flood, the Prologue of John’s Gospel, the Annunciation/Nativity event, and Pentecost.  Now, let me take three of these accounts — Noah and the flood, the Annunciation/Nativity event, and Pentecost — and explore a deeper, common structure that might have some important implications for us.  I’ll speak specifically of Noah — since it is our appointed reading — and allude to the parallels with the Annunciation/Nativity event and Pentecost.

We can outline this structure of the account(s) in three points:

1. God remembers.

2. Noah (or Mary or the disciples) wait, watch, and worship.

3. God blesses.

This is the common, internal literary and theological structure of these creation accounts.

First, God remembers.  Now, that doesn’t mean that God had previously forgotten and then suddenly called to mind that he’d better do something.  When Scripture says “God remembered” it means that God has determined to act in this moment, that the time has come for God to create.  This is important theologically and practically:  creation begins with God, not with us.  Noah didn’t decide when the flood would end and the earth would be “re-created.”  Mary didn’t decide it was time to bear the Son of God.  Peter didn’t decide to create an organization called the Church.  The initiative in creation is always God’s and the operative agent in creation is always the Holy Spirit.

Genesis 8:1 (ESV): 8 But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. 

Theologians speak of the prevenient grace of God, the grace that always goes before, the grace that always initiates, the grace that always makes human response possible.  That is precisely what we see in these creation accounts:  God initiates, the Holy Spirit acts, and we respond.  But, what is, or should be, the nature of our response?  The account of the flood shows us.

Noah waited:  what choice did he have, really?  He waited for the rain to stop.  He waited for the water to subside.  He waited for the earth to dry.  He waited for raven and dove.  But his waiting was a watchful waiting, a faithful attentiveness to see how and when God would act.  Here were his choices:  a drowsy boredom or an attentive watchfulness.  So, Noah waited and watched.  Likewise, Mary waited for nine months.  Peter, and the rest, waited for fifty days.  And, as they waited, they watched to see what God was doing.  They discerned his will.  And, they worshipped:  Noah by building an altar and offering sacrifice, Mary by saying yes to the angel and by singing her Magnificat, Peter and the rest by reflecting on Scripture and by praying.

God remembers.  We wait and watch and worship.  Then, God creates and blesses.

Genesis 9:1 (ESV): 9 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

And, after this blessing, God created a new reality:  a covenant with Noah and his offspring that “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11).

With Mary, God’s blessing is spoken through the words of another, Elizabeth:

Luke 1:42–45 (ESV): “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 

And what is “created” — let me say “brought forth” to avoid any theological confusion — is none other than Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, fully God and fully man — the ultimate act of blessing.

As for Pentecost, the blessing was the arrival of the promised Holy Spirit who created the Church:

Acts 2:41–47 (ESV): 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

So, there, in outline, you have the leitmotif of creation accounts that serves to unify the story of Scripture:  God remembers; we wait and watch and worship; God blesses.  Or, to expand it a bit:  God remembers; the Spirit acts; we wait and watch and worship, God blesses; and God creates.

Now, here’s what I want to suggest:  this is still a major leitmotif in God’s ongoing relationship with the world and with the Church, though we often fail to notice.  Instead, we write our mission statements or set our goals.  We devise our detailed plans of how to accomplish them and the metrics for how to measure our successes.  We organize and find the right people for the right tasks.  And then we set to work to bless the world and create the Kingdom of God.  It all sounds so reasonable, so proper.  But, that’s not how it works; remember Noah and Mary and Peter?  All these creation accounts say the same thing:  God remembers and the Spirit acts.  God initiates and we respond.  That’s the order; it doesn’t work any other way.  Our part is to wait, to watch, and to worship.  We wait for God to reveal his will and his plan.  We watch — attentively, prayerfully — for signs that the Spirit is at work, a fresh wind blowing away our self-sufficiency and our puny plans.  We worship as our primary work until God sends us out on mission, and we worship while on mission — still our primary work.  And the story promises that God will bless and God will create in ways we could not even begin to imagine.

In the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, Siddhartha is asked by a merchant if he has any skills.  Siddhartha says, “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”  These creation accounts suggest that if we were ever asked the same question, a good and proper response would be, “I can wait, I can watch, I can worship.”  It’s not a bad New Year’s resolution, if you’re still looking for one.  Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN.
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