First Reading Genesis 1:1–2:4a
1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The 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. 3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 14And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16And God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 20And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds — livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 26Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 4aThese are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created …
Psalm Psalm 8
1O Lord our Lord, how exalted is your Name in all the world! 2Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens. 3You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, to quell the enemy and the avenger. 4When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, 5What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out? 6You have made him but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor; 7You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet: 8All sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, 9The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea. 10O Lord our Lord, how exalted is your name in all the world!
Second Reading Acts 2:14a, 22-36
14aPeter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:
22“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Gospel Matthew 28:16-20
16The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
On December 21, 1968, three men—Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders—left earth for a breathtaking voyage that took them around the moon and back. Now if you’re doing the math, this was more than 51 years ago. Within months of that historic event, other U.S astronauts would land and set foot on the moon, but this voyage of Christmas week 1968, was the pioneering effort. The take-off that day was flawless, a remarkable achievement in and of itself, when you consider all the problems in our space program over the years.
Here’s an interesting fact for you: did you know, that you probably have more memory and computing power in the cell phone you carry than there was available in the Apollo 8 rocket? And that computer weighed 70 pounds! What’s more, it’s hard to realize just how quickly we came to take the concept of space travel for granted. Those early successes seemed so easy.
On December 24, 1968, we tuned in to hear Frank Borman report, “This is Apollo 8 coming to you from the moon . . .” It was the first of six telecasts beamed from the rocket back to earth. It was a stunning achievement for our space program. However, something occurred on that first flight that will always make it memorable to many of us. On Christmas Eve, as the Apollo rocket closed in on the moon and the television cameras gave us the sharpest pictures of the moon’s surface ever seen up to that time, Borman, Lovell and Anders took turns reading the first ten verses from the Book of Genesis.
In our first lesson for today we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” It’s a magnificent account of the beginnings of creation and a very appropriate passage to have been read on that historic occasion.
Consider deeply the meaning of those words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” When you stop and really ponder God’s act of creation, it really is beyond our comprehension. God spoke, and all things were created. I love that bumper sticker of the past: “I believe in the Big Bang. God said it and Bang! it Happened.”
Author David Needham, in his book, Close To His Majesty, tells how, as a boy, he dreamed of one day being connected to something bigger and more powerful than himself. He dreamed of rolling down the highway, sitting high in the cab of an 18-wheeler, or seat-belted in a race car passing under the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500. The closest he could come to such examples of unleashed power on his family’s Southern California ranch, was a team of Missouri mules.
You see, on their ranch each year they had to spray some 60 acres of citrus trees with pesticide. They accomplished this task by using a cumbersome spray-rig pulled by a team of mules. Snapping the reins, young Needham would shout “Gee-haw!” and watch those mighty mules lean forward and dig deep into the soft soil. The wheels of the wagon would begin to lurch forward and slowly start to roll. It was an amazing feeling to be part of that, he writes, to be joined to something so powerful even if it were only a team of mules. As a young man this is how he thought of God’s power. He imagined God “ramming the world into being with a mighty shove . . .”
But as he read the Bible more carefully, he discovered something quite different. He discovered that God only had to speak to accomplish His great feats of history. “And God said, ‘Let there be light . . .’” and there was light. For the first time he understood the nature of real power. God spoke and all of creation came into being. It’s an amazing and magnificent fact. But it didn’t stop there. Later God spoke again, and a nation was founded.
God called out to a nomad named Abram and told him to go off to a far country where he would become the father of a great nation. That nation, of course, would be the Hebrew people chosen by God to be a light to all the nations of the world. God spoke to Abraham, and then God continued to speak—to Moses and Elijah and Samuel and Jeremiah and Isaiah and many others whose experiences with God are recorded in the Bible. That’s why the Bible is so important and so precious to us.
The Bible isn’t a book of magic filled with secret incantations or spells. It isn’t a book of philosophy, psychology or social science—although many books on these subjects have been derived from it. The Bible is the record of God acting and speaking through the ages to men and women—seeking to communicate through flawed humanity His plan and His purpose. It’s a great disservice we do anytime we neglect this magnificent document.
I love the story about the Sunday school teacher who was trying to teach the Ten Commandments to her young students. She thought it would be most helpful if she provided them with some concrete illustrations. “Early one Saturday morning Billy’s parents were going out,” she said to her students. “Billy’s Dad asked him to mow the lawn while they were gone. When his parents returned, however, the lawn hadn’t been touched.” She asked the class which commandment Billy had broken.
Instantly the class responded, the 4th, “Honor thy Father and Mother!” “Good,” said the teacher and she gave another example. “Jessica was in a store with her mother. When her mother wasn’t looking, Jessica slipped a candy bar into her pocket . . . Which commandment was broken?” the teacher asked. Quickly the class answered: the 7th, “Thou shalt not steal!” “Great,” said the teacher and she continued. “Jimmy had a bad temper and he was mean. One day he got angry with his sister and grabbed her pet kitten. He then threatened to pull its tail off.” This time the students were stumped. Finally, one little fellow piped up and shouted, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder!” I’m not going to give you a quiz on the Ten Commandments today, but we need to understand that the Bible is a living document.
The Bible is the foundational source and norm of information for our life as a community of faith. Therefore, we should never neglect, minimize nor disregard the information, the commands, statutes or promises that God has given us in its pages. As Paul reminded his student Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Two hundred years ago there was a Scottish regiment quartered in Edinburgh Castle. Some of the officers were devout Christian men. Each evening they would gather together and drink a toast. The toast went like this: “A clean sword and a dirty Bible.” For us, this may seem like a strange salute. “A clean sword and a dirty Bible.” Let me explain: the clean sword referred to their hope that they would never have to use their swords in battle. The dirty Bible, on the other hand, referred to a Bible that had been smudged and tattered from constant use. For those soldiers, the Bible wasn’t simply a good-luck charm: It was their confidence, their conscience, and their constant companion. We would do well if we took this to heart. God spoke and a world was created. God spoke and a nation was founded. And the good news is, there’s more. God spoke again and humanity was redeemed.
The first major event in the ministry of Jesus was His baptism at the hand of John the Baptist. At that baptism, there was an unexpected guest speaker, God. A voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Based on what we read of this account in the gospels, we don’t know who might have heard that voice besides Jesus. Did John the Baptist? Did others who were also there to be baptized? Various English translations render this verse differently. Even when read it in the original language, there’s still some question if this was a message meant just for Jesus, or for those gathered that day as well. For today, this isn’t important. What is important is that God spoke to us in a personal way in and through Jesus, His Son.
Remember the words from Genesis that we began with: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .” St. John’s Gospel, which gives us our most complete understanding of Jesus’ ministry, begins with much the same three words. However, John’s writing gives us even further clarification: “In the beginning . . . was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind . . .” (John 1:1-4). We know that the light John is referring to is Jesus. He is the Word of God. Jesus didn’t just speak the truth; He is the truth. Jesus didn’t simply show us the way; He is the way. He doesn’t just show us how we may have life; He is life (John 14:6).
A married couple was having problems and they went to their pastor for counseling. At one point in the counseling session the husband said to the wife: “I’ve given you everything you’ve ever asked for—a new home, a new car, all the clothes you can wear . . .” The list went on. When he had finished the wife said sadly, “That much is true. You’ve given me all but one thing . . . yourself.” God didn’t make that mistake. After He had given us the wonder of creation . . . after He provided everything we need for this life, after He had opened up His dialogue with humanity through Abraham, Moses, the Prophets and gave us the Law, after He did for us everything He could do, He went one step further. He gave us Himself. And this is the life-giving good news that we need to hear.
Chuck Swindoll tells a true story about a kindergarten teacher who was ascertaining how much religious training her new students had. While talking with one little boy, to whom the story of Jesus was obviously brand new, she began describing Christ’s death on the cross. When asked by the little boy what a cross was, she picked up some sticks, and fashioned a crude cross. She explained that Jesus was actually nailed to a cross, and then He died. The little boy, with eyes downcast, quietly said, “Oh, that’s too bad.” In the very next breath, however, the teacher explained that Christ rose again and that He came back to life. At this, the young boy’s little eyes got as big as saucers. He lit up and exclaimed, “That’s totally awesome!” I agree.
It’s sad that far too many have lost the sharp edge to their faith so that the audacity of the truth of the Gospel no longer quickens them as it once did. As St. Paul reminds us, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). God spoke and the world was created. God spoke and a nation was founded. God spoke and humanity was redeemed by the cross of Jesus Christ. But there’s still one more thing that needs to be said this morning. God still speaks today, and in those messages, we find help for the living of our lives.
Sometimes God speaks to us in the beauty of the world He created. Sometimes God speaks to us through His people in various ways. And God always speaks to us through the reading of Scripture. Norman Vincent Peale once told of a woman who had an eighteen-year-old daughter who went out riding and was thrown from her horse and killed. The mother had seen her ride away with her cheeks radiant and her spirits high; now she saw her brought back with her eyes closed and her face stilled with death. That mother couldn’t accept her daughter’s death; she couldn’t recover from the blow. Deciding she needed to go away to try to forget, she went to a quiet place in the country. But the awful memory went with her.
Then as she sat in her room one evening, she took out her Bible and began to read. She read the first Psalm, then one by one, she read each of the Psalms down to the very last word. When she finished and shut the book. She sat quietly, lost in reflection; then she said to herself, with complete conviction: “The men who wrote those Psalms knew about life! They went through suffering just as I am, and they found the answer. And so have I.” At that moment the faith that had meant so much to her through the years returned, and she was able to pick up her life again.
When the minister asked her exactly what the reading of Psalms had done for her, she replied, “They gave me the answer I was looking for. And I believed it. The God of the Psalms can be trusted.” God speaks through His creation. God speaks through the reading of Scripture and God speaks through public worship. And if I’ve been listening to the Holy Spirit, God speaks through the proclaimed Word.
God’s word for our life can come from the sermon, it may come from one of the hymns. It might come from the reading for the day, or a devotion posted on the internet or in print. God’s word can certainly come to us as we simply sit in the silence or when we’re bowed in prayer. But the most important thing that can happen to each of us, is that when we leave here today, we’re able to say, “God spoke to me this morning.” And, you know, if we empty ourselves and surrender ourselves completely to Him, I believe God does and will speak.
God spoke, and the world was created. God spoke, and a nation was founded. God spoke, and humanity was redeemed. And God is still speaking to His people today. When we listen and obey, we are then strengthened and encouraged, and we find the help we need for living our lives. All we have to do is be open, and willing to take time to listen.