The authors of our lectionary placed the Old Testament reading alongside the Gospel reading for 10th January 2021 for a reason. They wanted us to see them in parallel.
In both cases God is doing something new.
I am not an expert in classical music, a bit of a Philistine really, but as I thought about these two readings from Genesis and Mark it seemed to me that they could be described as two different movements from the same symphony. I’m told that the classical composers used variations on the same theme to develop their composition and that if you listen carefully to the music you can hear the main theme being repeated. …..
Perhaps you can imagine a heavenly orchestra playing the first 5 verses of Genesis. Dark, brooding music portrays an overwhelming sense of chaos and darkness. I imagine that the composer would use discordant modern themes to convey a sense of disorder. Then over this music comes the main theme of the symphony – quietly at first, starting with flute and piccolo, and gradually engaging the whole orchestra. Like a wind gradually rising from a gentle breeze to a violent gale. God’s mighty wind (his Holy Spirit) sweeps across the universe. God is speaking, and his very words change the universe for ever. “Let there be light” and light appears. God saw that it was good, and Night and Day were born.
God breaks into the history of the universe with a powerful word of creation.
Our second reading comes much later in the same symphony. The main musical themes are now well developed – we=ve heard them over and again throughout the symphony. When John the Baptist appears we return to that same discordant, abrupt and harsh theme that we heard right at the beginning of the symphony. His harsh manner, his odd clothing, his strange habits all seem to echo the chaos and darkness of Genesis. The sound from the orchestra builds and noise of the crowds coming to John for baptism shake the concert hall and then John’s voice can be heard as a sharp solo, perhaps, by the oboe cutting through the surrounding noise.
Then quietly at first the main theme appears again. The theme that represented God at work as Creator gradually supersedes the chaos of the early part of this movement. Jesus has come for baptism. The Word of God, from the beginning of John’s Gospel, is beginning his work. And as Jesus comes up out of the waters of baptism the whole orchestra joins the theme – the heavens are rent open, the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and God speaks, a strong solo voice: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.
Can you see the common themes in the two passages?
- The milling crowd, longing for God to act in their lives; and the universe awaiting God’s creative action.
- The wind of God, and the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of the deep and the waters of baptism.
- The word of God bringing creation, “Let there be light”; and the Word of God, Jesus, God’s Son, whose ministry brings redemption.
God’s delight is obvious in both passages. Looking at creation, ‘God saw that it was good’. Looking down on his Son, God said, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased”.
The theme from each movement of our symphony is the same. God creating his world and God redeeming that same world. All part of the same plan. In our symphony, both represented by the same theme.
And now, early in 2021, we are participating in what the Bible calls the end times, the days between Jesus’ first and second coming. We are participating in what we might call the final movement of the symphony.
In the first movement, God saw that everything was good. What does he see now, at the start of this new year, in Ashton, in our churches, in our families and personal lives? Where are the signs of new creation? Where are the dark, formless voids that still await God’s creative action?
In the later movement God expressed overwhelming pleasure at the baptism of his Son. What things in our world, our town, our churches or in our lives today, give God pleasure?
Where might we begin to hear that same musical theme of God’s intervention here in Ashton-under-Lyne? What do we long that God would do in our town and in our world?
At this moment the pandemic looms increasingly large and we can feel the discordant notes of fear and anger. The discordant music seems to dominate our lives, yet quietly, almost unheard in the chaos of noise that theme of hope is still present quietly picked out again by flute and piccolo bringing a measure of calm in the midst of the noise.
How might the final movement of our symphony be being played out? What should I do? What should we do to participate in God’s work here? Now, in these difficult times? Which of the musical voices are we contributing to? The discordant chaos or the still, small, haunting voice of calm and hope?