If you’re looking for words of hope - and I’m pretty sure we all are these days - there are a lot of places to turn, a lot of people who have things to say. If the words are true, they will not only brighten your day, but inspire you to envision a new day, one which is better, and support you in living into it.
Isaiah had just these kind of words for the Hebrew people exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon in the 6th century BCE. Conquered and far from home, grieving the life they had lost, Isaiah told them to listen to God, who says “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?” (Is. 43:18-19) I brought you out of Egypt, God says, through the wilderness and to the promised land, remember that? Well, now I’m going to bring you home again and this exodus will be even greater.
But, hang on, this seems confusing. You say forget the past. But you also say remember what God did in the past. How do we do both?
Hope is about what’s ahead, not behind. I think God means to say don’t live in the past and don’t mourn what’s past as if it’s lost, as if it’s something to go back to. You can’t. Those things bring you to here, they help make you who you are, but they don’t confine you. Instead, learn from them, grow from them and use them to propel yourself - and your world - forward into a new day.
The exodus from Egypt and the time in the wilderness were formative for the Hebrew people, a core piece of their identity, central to who they are and who they can become. And now, after a crushing defeat, lost in the wilderness of exile and surrounded by an inhospitable culture, Isaiah reminds them, not of better days in the past, but of what takes them to better days in the future: God.
This is not a return to the exodus from Egypt, but a new thing. They won’t return to the Jerusalem that was, nor will they be able to rebuild it exactly as it was. The people they return to will not be the same, either, they, too, will have changed. The new thing isn’t built in the past but on the foundation of the past, as every new moment is.
The spirit of God - the spirit of life - moves in each of us, and we have a part to play. Hope inspires action. God moved through Moses in Egypt and, in Isaiah’s day, Cyrus and the Persians, but also through community leaders who’s name we don’t know, through individuals who worked together, and people who followed.
The ground might still look cold and wet and bare, but underneath new life is getting ready to appear. If we look around, we might see and hear Isaiah calling to us from the earth. Listen, a new day is coming; do you not perceive it?