Jan20WedJanuary 20, 2016
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
- Isaiah 62:1-5
Two little words have often filled my fantasies about the future. Two little words have repeatedly disappointed me with the realities of today.
Each time we pack the boxes I imagine what life will be like on the other side where possibilities are endless and second chances are waiting. Every new place is a blank page, a clean slate.
“This time,” I tell myself, “I will hang pictures on the walls… current pictures! This time I will organize the laundry room. This time I will plant my own herb garden and cook only fresh organic meals. This time I will run every morning and finish every book I start. This time I will create a place to sort the mail which I will do each day and it will never again pile up on any part of the kitchen counter.” Thus saith the duchess!
“This time I will have healthier life rhythms. This time I won’t over commit. This time I will practice real Sabbath. This time I will be a better friend. This time I will strike the perfect balance between family and ministry. This time I won’t be so hard on myself. This time…”
This is the problem with each and every fresh start… it’s still the same old me.
It may be a new city, a new house, a new job, even a whole new life arrangement… but none of that fundamentally changes who I am, the girl who is currently looking at bare walls and piles of unsorted mail.
A fresh start doesn’t come with a new me.
The prophet of Isaiah 62 is witnessing to a people prepared to seize a second chance and a fresh start. The Israelites had finally returned to Jerusalem after a generation of Exile. There were boxes to unpack, gardens to plant, roads to build, and I imagine, a few walls to decorate. But the task before the people of Israel was not merely about what kind of city they would design, where the roads would go and how big the temple would be. Their primary task, as the prophet reminds them, is about building up a people who had once been termed forsaken in a land termed desolate.
Terms are so definitive. They are assigned to a person, place or thing after careful examination of their characteristics, behavior, abilities and circumstances. There could be no more appropriate term for the Israel and Jerusalem than forsaken and desolate.
The world looks up terms to define what exists.
Meanwhile, God is calling.
God had given them more than a fresh start at rebuilding an old city. God was calling them by a new name. The people would be called “My Delight is in Her” and the city, “Married.”
Still, I can’t help but hear old Willie’s question, “what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” To follow that logic, a pile of rubble like old Jerusalem by any other name would reak just as bad. A sinful people like Israel by any other name would always go astray.
Slapping a new name on an old piece of junk sounds like marketing tactics to me. Like if your cheesy chips aren’t flying off the shelves just take them down and slap the word “extreme” across the front with a lightning bolt through and it and presto! A brand new bag of old cheesy chips.
We all know what this is. A new name and a fancy label on an old product isn’t magic and it is far from transformation. If all we have to hope for when we are desperate for a fresh start is a name change, or a different address label while we are still dragging around a tired old sack of brokenness, why bother hanging pictures on the walls? We might be in a new place but nothing has really changed.
Thankfully, God is not a marketing strategist for old Israel or a tourist agency for old Jerusalem. God choses to be described as the builder and bridegroom.
Builder and bridegroom; beginning and end.
In the beginning, when God built, made, created the heavens and the earth God spoke words, gave names to things that didn’t even exist yet… and they existed! The God who gives Israel a new name is the God who named light and dark, night and day!
God calls. And Names. And something comes to life that wasn’t there before.
God isn’t only giving them a new name, God is making them a new creation!
This isn’t slapping a new label on the same old junk. God is calling forth a new people making them something that had never existed before, that couldn’t be defined by the worlds terms, a people that don’t answer to forsaken, a people who answer only to the call of God.
Here's what I'm getting at. Our God isn’t the God of fresh starts. Fresh starts always come in the middle of the story after dead ends and painful scars. Our God is the God of new creation.
And that’s not all! God doesn’t just give us a new beginning and leave us on our own to come up with an ending, crossing our fingers in hopes we don’t screw this one up too. God is the builder and the bridegroom, patiently waiting at the alter at the end of this long story, calling us by our new name, calling us to a new life that is truly a delight to our Beloved.
I’m looking at that big empty space on my wall - where a normal person might place decorations - and instead of seeing the same old failures I make time and time again, I am seeing the new thing God has yet to do. I’m seeing the faithfulness of God that has seen me through every twist and turn in my life and throughout the history of God’s holy people. I’m seeing a space that has been opened up for me to walk from faithfulness into faithfulness.
So instead of asking God to make me all the things I’m not but wish I could be in this new season (as if being more organized would make me less of a sinner, hello!) I’m going to ask God to reveal a work of new creation. Instead of asking God to make me the kind of person who can fill up an empty space, I am asking for more empty spaces that God can fill. Instead of asking for a fresh start I am thanking God for calling me by a new name and making something come to life that wasn’t there before.