Isaiah 43: 17-20… “Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I'm about to do something brand-new. It's bursting out! Don't you see it? There it is! I'm making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’
This passage from the great Prophet is a go-to encouragement for those of us who are looking to re-write history and experience God anew. Forgetting is not so much about trying to ignore what has transpired in the past or attempting to block old memories from our minds, but a call to pause-in-the-moment, be present, and consider the gift of futurity and the awareness it is offering us. The enthusiasm (divine inspiration) of the moment will provide the motivation we need to forge a way forward into the new season.
Later into every year we await the new season ‘advent’ a time characterised by the feature of arrival, the coming into view of the 'Christ mystery’ as it once again seeks to incarnate in creation.
The Nativity of life anew as seen in Jesus is an invitation for us to reconsider how we experience God in our humanity, in all of its unique permutations. Every story centres around characters who become archetypes, a pattern or model for how we grapple with the transcendent as it engages with our immanent self.
St Joseph, the paternal father of Jesus often finds himself sidelined by the larger than life Immaculate Mary, the betrothed virgin, an unwitting choice of impregnation. As I re-read this unique narrative Joseph leaps off the pages and into my imagination like a larger than life prototype for experiencing God anew.
The ‘new’ will often confound our cultural sensibilities, as it did with Joseph. While trying to be a good Jewish man and avoid the scandal of a pre-marriage pregnancy he sought to divorce her quietly, which could be seen as a kind way of caring for Mary’s honour, but it was also about how he needed to experience God through a completely new moral construct. The morality of the divine reaches beyond our constructed codes of conduct, sometimes proposing a higher goal of intentionality. There are always exceptions to the rules. If we are to experience 'God anew’ it may mean evolving and letting our imagination propose an alternative future of thinking and practice. Morality is not a static list of rules and regulations but a challenge of daily relational ritual.
‘Jesus did not live, die and rise from the dead to change Gods mind about us, but he lived, died and rose from the dead to change our minds about God’
The ‘new’ is an immanent conception of transcendent proportions. God is not a distant deity who is removed from our human experience like an estranged and jilted lover who is disappointed with our behaviour, constantly seeking to reconnect. Rather, God has always been connected with our human evolution, good bad and indifferent. Somehow we lose sight of God in the midst of our crazy lives and it often takes a very holy act of spirit to reawaken and rebirth new life in us. Joseph needed to accept and embrace, albeit through a dream about Mary as his divine partner, and name this work of holy spirit. The name would be Jesus and he would save us from our sins, not so much the misdemeanours of our misconstrued morality but the greater sin of the lost awareness of God in all things. Hiding in the fabric of our being is the seed of divine potentiality, awaiting its conception.
‘The journey of faith is one of order, disorder, and new order’
In order (sorry about the pun) for Joseph to nurture his new role as a father of the faith he would need to understand the pilgrimage of maturation. The delicate nature of newness will always find itself in the uncharted waters of opposition and obstruction. The romantic idealism of providence must face its need to grow into a fully formed human experience. This little baby (the new) of beginning must travel down the pathway of order, disorder and new order if it is to be protected and fully appreciated, as it grows in us.
Joseph is led to Egypt, an ancient representation of trouble and anguish, a landing place for all spiritual pilgrims who are traversing difficult moments. Waiting it out in a foreign space is exiles way of growing us up. Eventually the trajectory of maturation will bring us to our Nazareth, our Tūrangawaewae (our place of empowerment and deep connection) where we find our identity and sense of belonging. Jesus of Nazareth is our reminder that name and place are the real fruit of newness in our life. We are all looking for our land of promise, that place where we are at home in ourselves, fully alive.
And just like Isaiah says, even the animals will be grateful when we are comfortable in our own skin, treating creation with the respect it deserves.