God is doing a New Thing in Uncertain Times
By Pastor John J. Pawloski - December 3rd, 2023
Isaiah 43:1-2, 18-21 (NRSVue)
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
We live in times where we fear the end is near. That society is in a boat, about to go over the falls. We feel like we have lost our way. We fear for our children, so consumed by anxiety that they cannot do simple things we took for granted like getting a driver’s license. We look around in church on Sunday mornings and we have more empty pews than those filled with people. Our politics is embroiled in shouting matches about which party is more absurd. We often feel like God is very far away from the world we live in. There is a lot of despair.
Many people have lost their faith, or at least struggle with it. In many camps, those that do believe in God are seen as relics from a simpler, by-gone era. That to believe in God requires your suspension of reason. That God has no answers for our complex world today. That not even God can fix the mess we have gotten ourselves in. The problem with this view is that it is expressed by people who do not know the Bible. If they did know the Bible better, they might be familiar with the 43rd Chapter of the Book of Isaiah. Chapter 43 takes place in an era often described by scholars as Second Isaiah (the book of Isaiah was written or describes three separate eras).
Second Isaiah takes place in the pivotal point in history of the conclusion of the Babylonian exile following the Edict of Cyrus which allowed Jewish people to return to their homeland. Society was in chaos. The temple was destroyed and lay in ruins. Those returning looked to step back into their former positions of authority, while those who remained in Jerusalem throughout the past fifty years were not so willing to relinquish their positions of power. The old systems did not work well, but there were no new systems to replace it.
It is in this context that God says I will do a new thing. I will make a path in the wilderness. I will bring streams of flowing water to the desert. The Jewish people are scattered all over the world. There is a need for restoration. Jackals roam the streets looking for scraps amid the destruction. Ostriches refer to bad mothers (because ostriches lay their eggs and then abandon them). It is this world that God has said the Creator will do something new.
Do you not see the parallels between our modern world and that of Second Isaiah? Our inner cities look like war zones rife for the taking by Jackals. How many grandparents have to raise their grandchildren because parents have abandoned children due to meth addiction? Our old systems of government do not work (the House of Representatives can barely elect a Speaker). Inflation has made the cost of living unbearable. Our temples may still be standing, but too few are willing to go in them.
God reminds us of the covenants of old. God will do a new thing to fix the mess we have made of things. As we consider the approach of Christmas this Advent season, we might consider the prospect that Christmas is not a one-time event or a static process. Christmas is a never-ending process of meeting Jesus again for the first time. To see again that God has chosen to become one of us to teach us what it means to love, and to show us how to live. Christmas is about renewing our spirit when we fear we have strayed too far from our spiritual home. Christmas is about letting God do what only God can do, and about our getting out of God’s way.
God is in a committed relationship with you. God never gives up on you. God never surrenders to despair. God will not only bring us through the mess of our current situation, but will take us to a place where we can flourish. God sending Jesus at Christmas is proof that the ways of the world that bring us down cannot defeat the power of God to overcome the dysfunctionality of the world. God continues to send Christ into our lives to help get our house in order once again, if only we pause to let Jesus in. God will do a new thing, but will you be an ostrich and stick your head in the sand, or will you behold the wonder of what God can do? Will you continue to pick for scraps in the world as it is like a jackal, or will you wait for God to send you the bounty of God’s blessings? Will we learn from our mistakes, or will we ignore what God has done and repeat them?