let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant before God.
What makes it possible for us to consider that any situation can be improved? that our circumstances, no matter how dire, might be bettered? that we could repent and become the kind of people that God had intended us to be?
Isaiah is talking to a people who know dire.
He retells a story that they know well, reminds them of what the Lord has already done for them, rescued them, provided for their needs.
For assurances of the future, we remember the past. Yet, right after the reminder of how the Lord has saved them before, Isaiah then says, "Don't remember the old stuff."
I'm reading this directive to mean that we're not supposed to dwell on our own failings. Anguishing over what we have lost can obscure any happiness over what we have been given. Obsessing over our past failures shouldn't take the place of rectifying them.
Our new lives are possible just as new lives were possible for those ancient Israelites crossing a river while being chased by an army. I'm using verse 16 as a metaphor now. We need to get across this river to live over there--over there where our lives are not controlled by Pharaoh but rather are lived in accordance with the intentions of the Lord. It's hard and even kind of scary to change from the habits of the life we have been accustomed to--even if we don't approve of that life.
Still with the metaphor: God has the power to strike down our bad habits, addictions and obsessions. When we get across that river and are standing on dry land, we need to keep moving toward the Promised Land not go back for one more swim.
The Lord says, "I'm about to do a new thing." This new thing will be so overwhelming that they will be able forget what things had been like. As examples of how radical the new thing is, the Lord asks them to imagine a wilderness, "I'll make a path through it." The Lord asks them to imagine a desert, "I'll put a river in that desert for my chosen people."
But, not just for them. The Lord then tells them the reason for these overwhelming gifts, gifts that would be as welcome and life-saving as a path through a wilderness or a river in a desert: "So that they might declare my praise."
They don't deserve these gifts. They have sinned over and over. Yet, God speaks to them, "I'm blotting our your transgressions for my own sake. I will not remember your sins."
God makes gifts to us so that we can acknowledge those gifts; that is, so we can witness to others what God can do, what God does do. We aren't supposed to clutch our gifts to ourselves. The ancient texts taught this, and now modern people are demonstrating that it is true.
A recent example is a study made by social scientists that builds the case for survival of the kindest. Their results indicate that generosity toward others turns out to be good for us.
Paul had said, "People that we religious types did not once think should be included, well, I've been sent to tell you that they, too, are indeed included. They share in the inheritance we claim, they are family; the good news is for them as well as for us."
If I try to make a modern day application of this passage, just who would I include in the category of Gentiles?
I started like this: "I pray that....1) the Spirit of the Father will strengthen your inner being; 2) Christ will dwell in your hearts; 3) you will be able to understand ..."
Then I realized I had left out the word "power" that was used 3 times.
The power comes through God's Spirit. Paul wants us to have the power so that we can comprehend and to know Christ.
Paul then adds that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge.
Since the English translation is ambiguous, I pause here to wonder whether Paul means our love for Christ or Christ's love for us.
I've decided to settle on verse 20: God can accomplish more through us than we would have thought possible.
Do not envy the wicked,
nor desire to be with them;
for their minds devise violence,
and their lips talk of mischief.
Prayer for Today: Gracious God, we give you thanks for the times that you have forgiven us. Strengthen us now to follow the path you have laid out for us. And, God, help us to welcome others who will share our journey. Amen.