What a wonderfully mysterious entity or energy the Holy Spirit is! The first reading today consists of the first five verses of the Bible, at the start of the creation story. Right there, right at the beginning, the Spirit of God is present, hovering or brooding over the waters of chaos. The words suggest a mother bird brooding over her nest. And through the presence and power of this Spirit, the first aspect of creation comes to be: light, shining in darkness.
The creation narrative isn’t scientific or historical: it’s mythological. It tells a story to convey a spiritual truth – that the universe originates from the loving, energizing presence of God’s very essence or spirit. Spirit gives birth to matter; light suffuses darkness; something comes from nothing.
All through the Bible the Spirit of God is this creative, generative, powerful energy or presence, often with characteristics associated with the feminine: brooding, birthing. The Spirit is personified as Lady Wisdom in some books of the Bible, the creative wisdom of God. So rather than saying “it” or “he” for the Spirit, some of us say “she.”.
(We’ll be singing a hymn later on, written by an Anglican bishop, Gordon Light, a former parishioner here, about the role of the Holy Spirit – and it’s called She Flies On.)
The Spirit is there from the very beginning, and she is present in all things, in all places. Yet she’s elusive and mysterious. When Paul visited the new Christian community in Ephesus and asked them if they’d received the Holy Spirit, they said, “What?! We didn’t even know there was a Holy Spirit!”
We’re often unaware of God’s Spirit with us, yet that Spirit animates and sustains us.
But she can’t be pinned down. She’s not at our beck and call. Notice that when John the Baptist is baptizing people, he does it with water and he says the Messiah who is coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And then guess what: Jesus comes and is baptized in water by John, and the Spirit swoops down on him! And that’s the moment when Jesus has a profound experience of being loved by God – like hearing an actual voice saying, “You are my beloved son.”
I don’t think that’s an experience that’s only meant for Jesus: many of us have had those glorious moments of realization, fleeting as they may be. And that is the most truthful reality about us: we are each absolutely beloved by God, no matter what. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re like, God says to you, “You are my beloved child,” and God’s Spirit is with you and within you.
In a little while William will be brought by Meghan and Darcy, his parents, to be baptized here. He’s a child with special gifts and special needs. (And he played baby Jesus brilliantly in the Christmas pageant here just three weeks ago.)
When Will is baptized he won’t start to be a member of God’s family; he won’t begin to be a child of God. His baptism will put into words and symbolic actions what is already true: Will is and always has been and always will be God’s beloved child. As are you. As are we all. As is every human being who has ever lived on this planet. From the very beginning, creation comes forth from the loving energy of God’s creative Spirit.
We need the grace to be open to the gifts, the light, the love of that Holy Spirit. We need the awareness that She is with us always, through thick and thin, good times and the worst. We need, above all, to live into the wondrous truth that we are created good, by a good and loving God, and we are beloved. May you know that more and more deeply, day by day. Amen.