Beginnings and Endings

Reflections on Genesis 1&2 and Matthew 24:36-44  

Over advent, I’m reflecting on the Biblical stories that we have of God. What do these stories say about God? But also what do these stories say about us, about how we experience God? I started in the beginning. When God sets up a home for people, but also a home where God and people can meet and chat.

 

Beginnings

In the beginning – God.

Many stories about the beginnings of our world begin in this way – with God, dirt and people.

Some stories start with a battle between the gods of order and the god(desses) of chaos.

But not our story, not the story we are told by the Jewish people. Their story is different.

Although the ancient goddess of chaos is named, she is simply called ‘the deep’.

There is no battle. Just God, hovering over the deep, like a bird hovers over the ocean.

God does not fight. There is no need.

God simply speaks. “Let there be light” and there was light.

God gives ‘day’ and ‘night’ their names, their place and purpose.

Then God speaks ‘sky’ into being– ‘sky’ – that dome above us that separates the waters above and the waters below. (Ancient Hebrew thinking, you see. We know there are ‘waters above sky’ as sometimes God let’s some of the water leak through – we call that rain. We know there are ‘waters below’ as we see lakes, and if we dig we find water and make wells.)

Then God requested that the waters below gather together in one place. This is how he created ‘land’ by asking the waters to come together.

God asked the land to produce plants of all kinds and it obeyed. Plants sprung up everywhere!

God created the sun to watch over the day, and the moon to watch over the night. So there would always be a way to tell the difference between light and dark.

God spoke sea creatures and birds into being, then God created all kinds of animals to roam the land.

Then God made people – to bear God’s image – to resemble God. God made humanity – male and female – both bearers of God’s likeness.

God gave the green leafy plants to the animals, and the fruit with seeds God gave to the people.

God sat back and looked at all God had created, all that had been spoken into being and said, “It is good”. God then spent a day resting, called that day ‘holy’, set apart, for resting.

 

But that is only the first creation story. The Jewish people give us two. And they sit side by side – Genesis 1 & 2.

To me, Genesis 1 is the big picture – like a drone flying up and taking an aerial shot of the borough.

Genesis 2 is the more detailed look – the extreme close-up, zoomed in look at the art of creating creation.

 

In Genesis 2, God is an artist. He doesn’t speak things into being. God fashions and moulds dirt, like a potter creating a vase or a child with dough creating a ball or a sausage. Just like how we get dough on our hands, God’s hands get mucky in Genesis 2.

 

In Genesis 2 – the land is empty, apart from the water below the surface which springs up in places to form streams. No plants or anything. Because there simply was no one to look after any plants yet.

God picks up the dry dusty dirt which in Hebrew is called adamah and moulds it with His hands. With the adamah, God makes a-dam. God then breathes life into the a-dam, and the person becomes a ‘fully alive being’. Then God puts this ‘fully alive being’ into a garden He had made – Eden.

 

Eden had lots of trees, but it also had the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told a-dam that all the fruit from the trees could be eaten – but NOT the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. ‘Ya’ll leave that tree alone,’ God said, ‘cause that tree will kill you.’

Then God saw the a-dam was alone and decided to make a helper. The word for helper here is e-zer – a word that the Jewish people used to describe how God helps Israel. This is not a subservient type of help. An e-zer is not there to wash dishes and clean up the cave. The a-dam needed a corresponding helper, someone in front of the a-dam, someone who would be like looking in the mirror, but had attributes that would complete the a-dam.

God and the a-dam looked everywhere. God created all kinds of animals, and the a-dam named them all. However nothing seemed right. Nothing complemented or completed the a-dam.

So God thought – a ha! – and put the a-dam to sleep. God took one of a-dam’s ribs. From this rib, God doesn’t create or fashion like a potter – God becomes an architect, using architectural words. God builds. Woman is built from the rib taken from the a-dam.

God had made eesh (Hebrew word for ‘man, husband’) and eesh-ah (Hebrew word for ‘woman, wife’).

They lived in the garden together and walked with God.

God created everything to be close to Him, to be in relationship with Him. God had created a home. A place for His image to dwell. A people to share it with.

Of course, if you’ve read Genesis 3, you know things changed, but that’s another story!

 

Endings

The gospel reading for Advent 1 was Matthew 24:36-44. This story takes place after the ‘Palm Sunday’ entry into Jerusalem. Jesus had overturned the tables in the Temple. He had cursed a fig tree, had his authority questioned by the chief priests, and then told a couple of parables that made the chief priests want him dead.

 

They tried to trick Jesus into speaking out against the emperor – you know the question about paying taxes. When that failed, they tried to get Jesus to stumble on questions about the Torah. He gave them two basic teachings upon which the rest of the law stood. Love God (quoting the shema from Hebrew scriptures), love people (another quote from Hebrew scriptures). Take one out and like a house of cards it all fell down. He then lays out a whole list of charges against the scribes and Pharisees – every form of hypocrisy Jesus had witnessed in them.

As Jesus and his disciples walked out of the Temple, we get this conversation about how things will end, and it starts with a simple remark that a disciple happened to make about the Temple building.

When you look at Matthew 24:36-44, you may notice that to explain a bit further about the endings. To help explain – Jesus uses a story that would have been well-known to them. A story from their faith. The story of Noah. In a way, the story of Noah is a bit like God’s reset button on creation. God had created creation to be in relationship with Himself, but when that went a bit off course, God hit the reset button. God had found a new eesh and eesh-ah in Mr and Mrs Noah. Noah built an ark for him and his family and a lot of animals. They survived the flood. World was ‘reset’, sealed with a rainbow promise of not to do it again.

When we tell this story to children, we focus on the animals and the rainbow, but Jesus isn’t focussed on that. Jesus reminds his disciples of the chaos and uncertainty as the destruction came. Jesus reminds them that life was ‘carrying on as normal’ without any hint of what was coming. Noah knew, and those who saw him building the ark mocked him.

Jesus doesn’t use the story of Noah to comfort people. He didn’t focus on the rainbow ending. This isn’t like the Messiah reset button. The Messiah was meant to come and ‘reset’ everything, put things back the way they should be. God would send in His guy who would get rid of Rome. Then the nation of Israel would be alright again.

But Jesus is saying something different. His message is not one of comfort. It’s discomforting. Things were going to change, suddenly, without warning, and some people were going to survive but not everyone. So keep an eye out, watch. Be alert!

So what was Jesus telling them to watch out for?

A thief was coming. Someone was going to break into the house.

  • Some scholars say Jesus was talking about being ready for your own individual death.
  • Some scholars say Jesus was talking about the endings of everything, and that people should be ready for that.
  • However some scholars say – Remember this all started with comments about the Temple. Text doesn’t specify, but maybe Jesus was warning them about the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple?

Whichever it is – Jesus is definitely telling his followers to be alert, to be aware of what is going on around them, to not grow complacent.

  • Your relationship with God matters – now and when you die – so when you mess up, sort things out with God then and there.
  • Or if the end times is your understanding, then remember that there are people who are struggling in this world, trying to make it without God. Introduce them to Jesus.
  • Or if you see Jesus talking about the fall of Jerusalem, ask yourself – what institutions are you putting your faith in? What would happen if they ended suddenly?

‘But it is Christmas!’ I hear you say. ‘Season of good will and hope! Where’s the hope in that?!’

Well, you are right– it’s advent and Christmas day is less than thirty days away. A celebration of God with us – Immanuel. God’s son being born as one of us. Encouraging us on. Teaching us. Defeating death by dying on a cross and rising from the dead. Making it possible for us to bear God’s image eternally and more fully as we are in Christ Himself.

Christmas – the birth of Jesus is God’s reset button. God set up His permanent home – not in a place or a specific group of people but in all people who let Him in – in all our hearts. God’s set up a home, a permanent eternal home for those who would receive Him.

So why don’t you open the door and let Jesus in?

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