I am Doing a New Thing
Citizens of the world, particularly Americans, gathered around their televisions while others used their mobile devices to view the presidential inauguration of Joseph R. Biden, Jr, and the swearing in of the vice president of the United States of America, Kamala Harris. Vice President Harris’ swearing in was historic: first female to hold the office, first person of East Asian and African descent elected to the office.
This presidential inaugural was taking place beneath a proverbial “dark cloud.” The usual crowds that often populate the mall for these events were replaced by flags that were planted in memory of the 400,000+ American lives that have been lost to COVID-19. The American economy faltered in a deepening economic crisis, 900,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits for the month, 17 million American children faced food insecurity, increased racial tension had resulted in civil unrest last summer, the country was shocked by an attempted coup ďétat when insurgents stormed the Capitol to prevent the Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 elections, and there was an unprecedented second impeachment of an American president for Donald Trump’s role in inciting the attack on the Capitol.
During this inauguration event, I was part of a small group of folks that gathered for our weekly prayer meeting on the Zoom platform. We paused our meeting to witness the ceremony, while listening intently as President Biden mobilized the nation to move forward in unity and to respect the institutions of democracy. As we resumed the prayer meeting, the group leader read the passage from Isaiah 43:18-21 without expounding on its relevance to what we had witnessed at that particular time, the passage seemed to speak for itself:
18"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
I have chosen to reflect upon that passage here to uncover its meaning for a world beset by the dark cloud of a global pandemic, economies in crisis, rising racial tensions provoked by white supremacy across America and Europe, and a threat to democratic institutions. In this passage, the prophet Deutero-Isaiah predicted Israel’s deliverance from Babylon. The people of Israel had witnessed the plundering of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the human casualties perpetrated by Babylonian military prowess in war. They were corralled and forcibly taken to Babylon where they languished in captivity. But amidst the dismay, they held out hope. They remembered the deliverance of their ancestors from oppression in Egypt. They believed that it was the kind of deliverance that Yahweh could repeat by leading them out of Babylonian captivity.
The prophet’s declaration in 43:18 — “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” — was not a rebuke of the people for looking into the past but should be understood as cautionary advice not to accept deliverance from Egypt – The Exodus – as the zenith of God’s redeeming power because God is doing a new thing. Using prosaic language, the prophet alluded to the transformation of the topography from rough arid terrain to a land with a continuous flow of water as a metaphor for Israel’s restoration to national independence and for which the people shall return praise.
Perhaps Isaiah 43:18-21 is an appropriate text for a time such as this. However, its interpretation should not be confined to our expectation of a new era in world affairs with the swearing in of a new American president. It is important to remember that Deutero-Isaiah points us to the Christ and the era of the Kingdom of God. It is the “new thing” that God is doing. It is the proverbial silver lining of the hope of salvation for humankind. And it is within this context that the text becomes pivotal to the success of our courage to move forward in the pursuit of unity among people with disparate points of view, racial justice that values the humanity of people regardless of their ethnicity, economic justice that provides a safety net for the poor, and gender equality that celebrates the humanity of women. This “new thing” is the silver lining that has forged its way to prominence, away from the obscurity of the pernicious sinfulness of the dark cloud that cuddles a deadly pandemic, economic collapse, racial animus, and authoritarianism.
—Rev. Nigel Leon Lovell-Martin, Ph.D.
Pastor of the Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church
Pastor of the Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dr. Nigel Leon Lovell-Martin is a past moderator of the Presbytery of Tropical Florida and currently serves as a member of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He also teaches courses in educational psychology and leadership at Florida Atlantic University. He is married to Dr. Barbara Lovell-Martin, a professor of nursing at Broward College. They are parents to three young adults.