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New Year's Day | Saturday, January 1, 2022
Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 43:16–21
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 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. (NRSV)
“Lord who makes a way in the sea” sounds like a rather embellished title. Of course, if you are a sailor or a passenger in a waterborne vessel, then it might be a particularly reassuring one. But this passage isn’t referring to just any experience on the sea, but a very special one for the receivers of Isaiah’s prophecies. The words horse and chariot likely drew their minds to the most memorable water crossing in biblical literature: the miraculous crossing of the Israelites across the sea and into the Sinai, safe from the armies of Egypt’s Pharoah in hot pursuit of them.
And yet the God that pulled off such a stunning victory for an upstart, outnumbered, and overpowered band of people has promised that this is just a prelude to the next act: the ultimate act of liberation. So much so, the prophet tells us that God says don’t even remember the former things.
Here, I’m reminded of President Lincoln’s inaugural address: “As our situation is new, so we must think anew.” Isaiah too is asking God’s people to think in new ways. And the image of rivers in the desert, of ravenous jackals honoring God, all beggar belief and force the mind to give up its previous constructions. God asks now, as in days of old, for us to perceive differently than before, to imagine a future that defies convention and is not beholden to past failures. This holiday season we may be tempted to simply seek relief by yearning for the normal of what was, but Isaiah’s words challenge us to ask whether or not what was is the best that God has on offer. The prophet says wait, look ahead, the best is yet to come.
Liberating God, who leads us in paths of righteousness, sanctify my imagination that I might dream more boldly of the future you are creating. Help me to honor, rather than be stifled by, the ways of the past. Amen.
Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Associate Pastor for Evangelism and Community Engagement
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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