Siblings in Christ,
The new year dawns with hope for most of us. Hopes that we can be better, reach a goal, rid ourselves of a bad habit, change jobs, experience something new.
As we turn the page on the calendar, we also hope we can leave parts of the old year behind. And some things we can. Other things we bring with us: grief, loneliness, injury, illness, a struggling relationship.
Where do we find our hope when we cannot find a fresh start? What promise does the new year bring when the old comes with us?
God says, “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, 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.” This powerful passage from Isaiah is nestled in a host of promises to the people of Israel who are still in exile in Babylon.
While in Babylon, the people of God are experiencing something like the turning of a new year. They live in hope for what might be, but they cannot ignore the reality of their exile. While in captivity, they are free, even encouraged to build houses, plant gardens, marry, worship their God. But they are not truly home. They long for Israel, the temple and the familiar rhythms of their former life.
And God promises to do a new thing. Like the liberation from Egypt but newer, bigger, “next generation” promises.
The view from Babylon doesn’t stretch as far as Israel. To people hoping for what they cannot see, the words of the prophet are nourishing and inspiring. Allowing them to live fully even under less than optimal circumstances.
The words of Isaiah continue to hold forth promise for the people of God today. God promises to be at work in our lives, individually and collectively. Not as a puppet master—that was ruled out when God invited us to be co-creators with God. Instead, God promises to roost in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit breathed into us by the living Christ. The Spirit brings new life, capacity, giftedness, perspective and hope. The Spirit empowers us to move into an uncertain future. Equipping us for what tomorrow may bring. And above all, creating a community in which to thrive.
Creation also carries God’s promise, evident in the steady turn of the seasons, the daily rising of the sun (even if obscured by clouds), the wheel of the planets and our own human cycle of birth and death. Even in death, God is steadfastly present with a new surprise.
We, too, live in hope for what we cannot see from here: healing, recovery, employment, reconciliation, forgiveness or a fresh start. God’s bold promises go with us into the new year. And we go side by side, to remind each other what God is capable of and what God is actively doing in our lives.
As you breathe in the crackling January air, trust in its capacity to give you life. And know that it is God’s promise to you.
Happy New Year,