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Newness: A New Thing Isaiah 42:16-21; John 12:1-6

By William Jacobsen
One of my favorite activities each day is to get the mail. I love to get the mail. Oh, I know the sinking feeling of the VISA bill when it is a lot more than I expected, or the summons to jury duty. And I get as impatient as any one at the junk mail I have to sort through every day, or weary at the work represented in the mail. It seems there is never an end to forms that need to be filled out. But there is something about the mail I enjoy -- I think I know what it is, too.

It's the sense of newness. Especially when I have been trapped in the doldrums, when everything seems "same old same old." It's the sense of something new: a letter from our daughter in Japan or one from our other daughter in college in Minnesota; an unexpected package; exciting news from friends; the newest magazine or book I've just requested; one of the many items our family orders from catalogues; or even the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes letter saying, if I have the lucky number, I have already won $12,000,000. I like getting the mail. It feels like something new is about to happen.

I like new beginnings: a new book or a new class; a new art project or a new car; starting a new job or repainting a room. There is a deeper new thing, too -- a renewed spirit and enthusiasm after a satisfying vacation, Waking up to the singing of the birds as they celebrate a new sunrise, experiencing the mercy of God again and knowing that everything is going to be OK. A new thing.

A new thing is exactly what God promised to do for Israel in Babylon. You remember the Babylonian captivity. A whole nation driven away from home into a foreign country. A different language. Different customs. Different religion. Far from home. Disorienting, and disillusioning. The Psalmist recorded that the people of Israel sat down by the river Babylon and wept ... wept against the day they used to sing songs to God. Zion songs. "How can we sing songs to God in a foreign land?" they asked.

But now God was about to do a new thing. "I will break down all the bars in Babylon. I will make a way in the sea. I will make a path in the mighty waters, I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" A new thing.

God doesn't leave us parched and dried up. God doesn't leave us without hope. God doesn't leave us without a way. "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," says the Lord." "I am about to do a new thing."

But what does a highway from Babylon to Israel have to do with us in 1999? What new thing is God doing today? How are we to understand it? One pastor I knew took this approach: he was the brand new minister at his first charge. "God is about to do a new thing here at the Second Church" preached the preacher. And the preacher changed the order of the bulletin. "Forget the former things," heralded the herald, and the church began singing new hymns that no one knew. "Do not consider the things of old" counseled the pastor, as he pushed the congregation to add a gymnasium, even though it was an older congregation. "I am about to do a new thing" he shouted from the rooftops, and three years later the new pastor left the church, muttering, "they just don't want to change."

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