There is an inherent problem in the fact that the secular year begins on January 1, whereas the Christian year begins with Advent (in late November or early December).
Moreover, in this calendar I am pushing Advent back a further three months, partly in order to give us a much longer period of preparation for Christmas and partly in order to divide the year into three equal periods of four months each. Then it is marvelous to have four months in which to cover the whole Old Testament, stretching from creation to Christ.
We naturally focus during week 1 on Genesis 1, the creation.
If, however, the reader prefers to begin the New Year with the birth of Christ, it is easily possible to do so using the ribbon to mark this beginning.
“Nothing is more beautiful than Genesis,” wrote Luther, “nothing more useful.” I think we should agree with his evaluation, for there is great beauty and great practical usefulness in this book. Here, especially in its early chapters, the great doctrines of the Bible are established—the sovereignty of God as Creator, the power of his word, the original nobility of man, male and female, made in his image and given stewardship of the earth, the equality and complementarity of the sexes, the goodness of creation, the dignity of work and the rhythm of rest. These central truths are all laid down at the beginning of Genesis like massive foundation stones on which the biblical superstructure is built.
The first four words of the Bible (“In the beginning God”) are an indispensable introduction to the whole. They tell us that we can never anticipate God or take him by surprise. For he is always there “in the beginning.” The initiative in every action lies with him.
This is especially true of creation. Christians believe that when God began his creative work, nothing existed except him. Only he was there in the beginning. Only he is eternal. The God-centeredness of Genesis 1 stands out prominently in the narrative. God is the subject of nearly every verb. “God said” occurs ten times and “God saw that it was [very] good” seven times.
We do not have to choose between Genesis 1 and contemporary cosmology or astrophysics. For the Bible was never intended by God to be a scientific textbook. Indeed, it should be evident to readers that Genesis 1 is a highly stylized and beautiful poem. Both accounts of creation (scientific and poetic) are true, but they are given from different perspectives and are complementary to one another.
When the Apostles’ Creed affirms our belief in “God the Father Almighty,” it is referring not so much to his omnipotence as to his control over what he has made. What he created he sustains. He is immanent in his world, continuously upholding, animating, and ordering all things. The breath of living creatures is in his hand. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. Again, it is poetry, but it is true.
Hence the wisdom of churches that hold an annual Service of Harvest Thanksgiving and of Christians who say grace before meals. It is both right and helpful thus regularly to acknowledge our dependence for life and all things on our faithful Creator and Sustainer.
For further reading: Matthew 5:43–45 and 6:25–34
Although Isaiah assures us that God “did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18), the earth was at first empty, formless, dark, and uninhabitable. So stage by stage in Genesis 1 we watch God reducing disorder to order, chaos to cosmos. The author of Genesis evidently understood that the creation was a process, although of unspecified length.
This process is vividly portrayed in verse 2. Some translators understand it as referring to an impersonal phenomenon such as a storm at sea. The New Jerusalem Bible, for instance, renders it that there was “a divine wind sweeping over the waters.” But I agree with other commentators that in the context the reference is not to the wind but to the personal Holy Spirit himself whose creative activity is likened to a bird hovering over its young (REB).
Further, to the work of the Spirit of God in creation the author adds an allusion to the Word of God: “And God said.” “For he spoke, and it came to be” (Ps. 33:9). It does not seem to me fanciful to detect here a reference to God the Father, to his Word, and to his Spirit. In other words, to the Trinity.
In these days of frequent overemphasis on one or other of the persons of the Godhead, it is healthy to keep returning to the three persons. Indeed, it is important to note that from the very earliest verses, the Bible affirms its witness to the Trinity. At the beginning of our studies we rejoice to acknowledge that we are trinitarian Christians.
For further reading: Psalm 104:29–31
The little territory of Israel was sandwiched between the mighty empires of Babylon to their north and Egypt to their south, and in both countries some form of the worship of sun, moon, and stars was popular. In Egypt the center of sun worship was On, whose Greek name was Heliopolis, “the city of the sun,” a few miles outside Cairo. In Babylon astronomers had already developed elaborate calculations of the movements of the five planets they knew and had begun to map the heavens.
It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that many Israelite leaders became contaminated with the astral cults that surrounded them. Ezekiel was horrified to see twenty-five men “with their backs toward the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east . . . bowing down to the sun in the east” (Ezek. 8:16).
Jeremiah also condemned the leaders of the nation for loving and serving “the sun and the moon and all the stars of the heavens” (Jer. 8:2).
It is against this background of idolatry that Genesis 1 needs to be read and understood. The Egyptians and the Babylonians were worshiping the sun, the moon, and the stars; the author of Genesis insists that they are not gods to be worshiped but the creation of the one true God.
God promised Abraham descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). The extraordinary thing is that, with our knowledge of about one hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and of billions more galaxies billions of light-years away, the equivalence of sand and stars may well be fairly accurate.
The apostle Paul took God’s majestic fiat “Let there be light” as a model of what happens in the new creation. He likens the unregenerate human heart to the dark primeval chaos and the new birth to God’s creative command, “Let there be light.” This had certainly been his own experience. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
For further reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3–6
It is often claimed that there are striking parallels between the creation myths of the ancient Near East (especially the Babylonian epic known as “Enuma Elish”) and the biblical account of creation in Genesis 1. But what is remarkable about the Babylonian and the biblical stories is not their similarity but their dissimilarity. So far from copying the Babylonian account, Genesis 1 critiques and challenges its basic theology. In the Babylonian myths the gods, amoral and capricious, squabble and fight with one another. Marduk, the loftiest of gods, attacks and kills Tiamat, the mother-goddess. He then proceeds to split her body in two, half of it becoming the sky and the other half the earth. From this crude polytheism it is a relief to turn to the ethical monotheism of Genesis 1, in which the whole creation is attributed to the command of the one true and holy God.
According to the book of Revelation, the eternal worship of heaven focuses on the Creator:
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.
Scientists will continue to investigate the origins, nature, and development of the universe. But, theologically speaking, it is enough for us to know that God created all things by his will as expressed in his simple and majestic Word. For this is the repeated refrain of Genesis 1: “And God said. . . .” Moreover, as God contemplated what he had made, he “saw that it was good.” We need, therefore, to rejoice in all God’s created works—whether food and drink; or marriage and family; or art and music; or birds, beasts, and butterflies; and many other things besides.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is
received with thanksgiving.
1 Timothy 4:4
For further reading: Jeremiah 10:12–16
The climax of God’s creative activity was the appearance of human beings, and the way in which Genesis expresses this high point is to describe them as having been created “in the image of God.” But scholars are not altogether agreed on what the divine image in human beings means.
Some think it means that human beings are God’s representatives, exercising dominion over the rest of creation in his place. Others conclude that God’s image alludes to the special relationship that he has established between himself and us. But if we see the expression both in its immediate context in Genesis and in the broader perspective of Scripture, it seems to refer to all those human qualities or capacities that render us unlike the animals and like God. What are these?
Firstly, we human beings are rational and self-conscious. Secondly, we are moral, having a conscience that urges us to do what we perceive to be right. Thirdly, we are creative like our Creator, able to appreciate what is beautiful to the ear and the eye. Fourthly, we are social, able to establish with one another authentic relationships of love. For God is love, and by making us in his own image, he has given us the capacity to love him and others. Fifthly, we have a spiritual faculty that makes us hunger after God. Thus we are uniquely able to think and to choose, to create, to love, and to worship.
Unfortunately, however, we have to add that the image of God in us has been defaced, so that every part of our humanness has been tainted with self-centeredness. Yet God’s image has not been destroyed. On the contrary, both the Old Testament and the New Testament affirm that human beings still bear God’s image and that this is the reason why we must respect them. The sanctity of human life arises from the value of God’s image bearers (9:6). Human beings are Godlike beings. They deserve to be loved and served.
For further reading: James 3:7–12