Genesis 1 “God Rejoiced!”
In the First Testament of our Holy Scriptures, the story begins quite simply. The earth was a formless void, covered in shadow. God swept over the void and created light. God saw that the light was good. God then created the sky and the land, and called them good. God then created the plants, and called them good. God created the sun and the stars, and called them good. God then created the creatures of the sea and sky, and called them good. God then created the animals on the land, and called them good. Then God created humanity in God’s own image, and called us good. The first chapter of Genesis describes God’s act of creation as good.
When reading the first chapter of Genesis, you see there is a pattern to how creation is recorded – God creates the elements of our world and after each one calls them good. But, do not mistake pattern for monotony. This is anything but dull and repetitive. God is not simply trudging from one act of creation to the next. Instead, it is as if God is building a symphony – a series of repeating themes, building on one another until they reach a crescendo! And it is good! God’s creation is an act of rejoicing. God is rejoicing through it all. The way creation is described in our Holy Scriptures is anything but boring, instead we see God dancing upon the earth, creating life and laughing with tremendous joy while seeing just how good it is. For God, creation is an act of rejoicing. And, today, our worship is an act of rejoicing in that creation.
All this month we have been traveling to the National Parks of our country, to celebrate so much of what is good and beautiful in our world. We started the month in Denali National Park, and celebrated the act of learning out loud, when the Department of the Interior changed the name of the park back to Denali to honor the sacredness of the mountain to the native people’s who have lived in its shadow. Last week we traveled to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and witnessed creation in action – and saw in the core of our earth the heartbeat of God. And, today, we have traveled to Yellowstone National Park. And here, we see God rejoicing. This is the first park on our trip that I have visited personally, so this is the first time I can draw from my own experiences. And when I think of Yellowstone, I think of God rejoicing in creation. Let me explain.
Yellowstone National Park is space set apart. Not only because of its designation and distinction of being the first national park, but also because within that area you can see so much. Entering the park, you encounter huge, ancient pine trees – that have stood tall for hundreds of years. Through the trees, and sometimes along the road, you can see wildlife – bison, elk, bear, wolf, and so much more. Heading into the center of the park, you come to the geysers, hot springs, and mud pots – a very clear reminder that you are spending time on top of a huge volcano, still very much alive. Further into the park, you come across a huge, glorious lake, which feeds countless streams full of fish. And, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – the colorful canyon walls and drama of waterfalls can overwhelm the senses.
At Yellowstone National Park, the animals live in harmony with the rumbling life, warming themselves in the hot springs or catching fish in a cold stream. Bison roam freely. And wolves, once hunted to near extinction, live there safely, doing their vital work of maintaining a balance of animal life. Everywhere you look in Yellowstone, it is as if you are looking at God showing off. Creation is abundant, diverse, glorious, and beautiful throughout the Park – so much so that if you listen carefully you can hear God laughing with joy.
What I love about visiting Yellowstone is seeing people from all over the world in awe. Cars slow down to marvel at wildlife, patiently waiting as bison cross the road. I once saw a car pulling over to take pictures of a white-tailed deer, an animal I take for granted, but for the family in that car it was an animal to be marveled at. Sitting around Old Faithful geyser, waiting for it to erupt, I love to look around and wonder who is going to see it for the first time. And, when Old Faithful erupts as it always does, the cheers and shouts of joy always make me laugh, because it helps me to remember the first time I saw a geyser shoot hot water and steam high into the air. Once while driving back from the northern most region of the park, along a narrow and not highly traveled road, we had no choice but to slowly and gentling inch around a bison out for a leisurely stroll. As we passed him, I turned and looked that glorious animal in the eye and laughed out loud – partly from nervousness, they are giant wild animals, but partly because I knew it would be a moment I would never forget, a memory to make me happy for the rest of my life.
People enter into Yellowstone National Park and leave behind their lives and for a time steep themselves in God’s creation. And by doing so, no matter their beliefs, they are steeping themselves in God’s joy. You can see it in the faces of long-time visitors and those seeing all of it for the first time. People laugh more easily, visit with a stranger with ease, slow down more and simply wonder. It’s as if the joy of creation is so abundant there that, even for people who have forgotten it, remember again that we carry within ourselves not only a spark of the divine, but the joy of God.
God created this world and all who exist upon it, and rejoiced. That means, we were created in joy. We are steeped in joy. God created the earth, and rejoiced. God created the plants, and rejoiced. God created the animals, and rejoiced. God created you and me, and rejoiced. And, because we are created in that image of joy, we are to rejoice as well. It was an act of joy that brought us forth, which means joy is found in the very atoms that make up who we are. We don’t have to step out of our regular lives, though, to remember that. It isn’t necessary that we travel to a place set aside, overflowing with God’s creation. The joy of God, the joy of life, the joy of our creation is everywhere. So, to be human is to rejoice. I fear that sometimes we forget that. I fear that we too often set aside joy, thinking it is the only way to make room for whatever needs our attention. But, when we do that, we take away a part of who we were created to be. We can still do the hard work of active faith and rejoice that God is ever present in that work. We can still protest injustice, and rejoice at each small achievement. We can still stand up to empire and demand equality, and rejoice that we are standing alongside so many others. We do not have to give up joy to make room for anything. There is space within us for it all.
Perhaps remembering a place like Yellowstone exists helps us to remember what it means to rejoice. God was showing off at Yellowstone, God was laughing with joy. But, God’s rejoicing is not limited to just that one place. God rejoiced in and through it all.
In the beginning, the earth was a formless void steeped in shadow. But, God looked upon that void and saw hope. God danced upon the void with love and ecstasy, and light was created. And God rejoiced! And God, dancing in the light, looked upwards and created the sky to protect and draw together all that was to be below. And God rejoiced! Then God laughed so much that a wind swept across the void and land and sea were created. And God rejoiced! God flung God’s self upon the land, and still laughing so hard that tears fell into the ground and up sprung plants. And, oh, did God rejoice! And then jumping up, God flung into the sky the stars and the sun, to shine down upon the land, to give light and life. And God leaped with joy! And God leaped so high and far that God dove down into the sea, creating waves that crashed together and as they met, sea life exploded into the waters. And God shouted out loud in joy! And as rejoicing shouts of God echoed through the land, animals appeared to shout back in their joy. Oh, God exclaimed, this is so GOOD! And God surveyed all that had been created, tingling with joy and love, but saw that there was something missing. So God drew together all the joy in this new creation and formed humanity. And this humanity looked just like God. Individually each person was unique and beautiful but when they came together – you could see God’s face. God looked at humanity, looked deep into them, and saw joy.
My Beloved Community, God’s act of creation was an act of joy. But God is not done creating yet. God’s joy continues to flow through our world. It is there, even if we have forgotten it. And, when we come together, stand with one another so the true and glorious diversity of humanity can be seen, we see the face of God smiling with so much joy. And as God smiles upon humanity, we can smile back and rejoice.