Advent Reflections 2023: Day 11

11 December Genesis 1:1-5

Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood opens with the words ‘To begin at the beginning…’ Where better to start, with this passage from Genesis? So, ‘In the beginning…’ But is that what it means? Translators meet their first dilemma with the first letter of the first word of the first book of the Bible! There is no ‘the’ in the Hebrew. (Significantly the Greek of John 1:1 also has no ‘the’, perhaps deliberately reflecting the opening of Genesis.) Should we prefer ‘When God began…’? Is God being depicted as creating the universe out of nothing, or as forming it out of an original watery chaos?

This has implications for whether the authors of Genesis were challenging the claims made for Marduk, the patron god of Babylon where the Jews had been in exile, whose creative acts (according to the Babylonian creation epic) followed his defeat of the personification of the great deep, using a wind as one of his weapons.

Was Marduk, who had apparently given the Babylonians victory, more powerful than Israel’s God. ‘No!’ says Genesis. Israel’s God is the one creator; as powerful, indeed more powerful, than Babylon’s. Israel’s God creates light as a distinct entity, not dependent on the sun, moon or stars – perhaps a challenge to religions which thought the heavenly bodies were gods.

Light is declared good. This does not mean darkness is bad, but light is necessary for God’s ongoing creative and sustaining activity. Light sets the scene for God’s gracious interaction with humankind. And God’s light is revealed supremely in the coming of the Light of the World.

Adrian Curtis

Creator God, let there be light –
in our world, in our land, in our neighbourhoods,
in our lives, and in our hearts.