A Word for the New Year

Dear Friends,

As I write another New Year is fast approaching, a time to say farewell to one year with its joys and sorrows and greet a new year with our hopes, coupled with the reality of some concerns, too.

This New Year also has a certain sense of déjà vu about it, for we were in this place last year, having endured and experienced 9 months under the shadow of Covid, yet feeling hopeful that the vaccine rollout, which was in its infancy, would bring restoration to many aspects of life. What actually happened was another lengthy period of lockdown, then restrictions.

The vaccine has made a huge difference, but just as life was starting to feel a little more cautiously normal, Omicron appeared. Our generation is on a fast-learning curve about how pandemics and variants impact.

And coupled with this challenge, we are all aware that the Church in our nations is fast changing, with many traditional churches facing challenges. We may wonder why? Or again, where is God?

I wonder what our faith may say to us? I’d like to share a perspective from deep in the Old Testament, of an occasion when people felt hope through a testing period when life could not be lived in fullness.

The period is some 500 or so years before the birth of Jesus. The background is that the once united and strong nation of Israel established under King David (c.1000 years before the birth of Jesus) has disintegrated. Neighbouring Babylonians laid siege to the holy city of Jerusalem, the very dwelling place of God, raised the Temple to the ground, sacked the city and carried many of the people, including the leading citizens, away into captivity. A once proud and strong people were now living under subjugation. The exile.

The people were exiled for two plus generations in what must have felt a helpless and hopeless plight. Yet, into this situation God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah then evokes the memory of what God has done in the past, specifically

freeing the people captive in Egypt in the Exodus across the Red Sea, then guiding them to a new life in the Promised Land.

In Isaiah Chapter 43 we may read:

Thus says the Lord,
   your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
For your sake I will send to Babylon
   and break down all the bars,
   and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.
15 I am the Lord, your Holy One,
   the Creator of Israel, your King.
16 Thus says the Lord,
   who makes a way in the sea,
   a path in the mighty waters,
17 who brings out chariot and horse,
   army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
   they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:

It’s as if to say, I, The Lord, saw you through your last crisis and I will see you through it again.

Isaiah then continues with a word for the people held in exile:

Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old.
19 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.

It is a word that may speak to people of faith, God does not forget the plight, it may take time, but God is faithful. Further, the restoration may not be to the old ways, but a new way.

Right now, it is not unnatural to feel despondent, despondent as a nation, and indeed, as a world citizen for the impact of Covid on people and community. It is not unnatural to feel despondent, too, that other old certainties seem to be changing, including some of the treasured ways of church seem to be passing.

As people of faith, we may hold onto God’s faithfulness, and whilst things may be different in times to come. I personally find great hope in science and I find great

hope, too, in God who has been faithful of old. So as a text for Emmanuel for 2022, I’d like to propose Isaiah Chapter 43, Verse 19

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.

Back in Christmas 1940, our nations were newly at war with Nazi Germany. In his Christmas Day message, the then King, George VI, quoted from a poem by the philosopher Minnie Louise Haskins, entitled ‘Gate of the Year’, which seems apt to requote for these times:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!’

May you know hope for 2022, for God’s light will illume the way.

Happy New Year!