December 26, 1993


What do we do when things go well? When things are so wonderful that we cannot even describe our joy? I have had innumerable joyful days–the happiest being my wedding day. Another happy day was the day Karen and I heard that the state of New Jersey had a little boy for us to adopt: Timothy. What made it special was the unexpectedness: one day we had two children and the next day we had three! In fact, our children have been so wonderful, and such stinkers! How could we possibly imagine what life would be like!

Such was the case with Isaiah’s people–they were finally going home. After three generations of Babylonian and then Persian captivity, they were going home. “. . . I am doing a new thing!” (v. 19).

But, at the same time, they were having, what counselors call, a crisis of celebration. A crisis of celebration they warn us can be as devastating as a crisis of disaster. God knew that and so He wrote Isa. 43. So, couched in this serendipitous, prophetic message of joy, is very important information for the nation, or believer, for whom something is going well.

It seems to me on this day after Christmas morning it behooves us to take inventory of our celebrating and make sure everything is in order.


Isa. 43 is advice offered to us on how to celebrate. First, we must be sure to remember God’s faithfulness and His deliverance but we must not stay there. Verses 16 and 17 review God’s former acts of salvation, our reasons to celebrate. And then He suggests something radical: exiled Israel must forget the Exodus—the central revelatory and redemptive act of God to date in the history of Israel. They were not to look back to the past; they were to look toward His future act of deliverance. The fact is, God wanted to do a new thing.

In verse 18 Isaiah says, “Remember not . . .” in which he does not mean merely to forget God’s original act of deliverance, but that when they hear that God will deliver them again, He does not mean for them to look mournfully back and cling to the past. That is pretty easy to do–cling to the past–especially when God did things like dividing the waters of the Red Sea.

But now, after years of Babylonian exile, God is bring His people home. The captives-set-free needed to be open to God’s new miracles.

Likewise, we need to be ready for new things to happen in 1994. God is ready and willing to do new things . . .

Of course God does whatever He wishes whenever He wishes. But we should never try to limit God’s intervention in our future by clinging too tightly to the past. This is important, because perhaps we will not need to cross the Red Sea; this time we shall need a different miracle.

God will not be limited by the way He did things in the past. What God wants to do now is so fantastic and unbelievably good that we can scarcely take it in. The new thing that God is about to do is something Israel had ceased to expect, or hope for, much less believe in. She thought God had ceased His saving acts. But what is now promised is a new thing, which means it will appear shortly and Israel will perceive it, will know it. God, if He is limited by anything, is limited only by our ability to dream. Isaiah’s community had to be encouraged to dream or they might miss the best thing that had ever happened to them.

In Thomas Wolfe’s THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. A husband made a grievous error. His wife said, “I forgive you, but what difference does that make?” Does your faith really make a difference in your life? Will you dare this year, First Church, to dream of a better world? Will you begin by living your life in obedience to God?


Something new has come into the world again this Christmas and it can change your world. The old won’t do any more. Something new happens when God discovers a people who know how to dream. Who dare to dream of a world of justice and hope.

Old Simeon waited. And waited. And waited. But finally his waiting paid off . . . and he held the baby Jesus. The hope of all humankind. God is doing a new thing . . . are you ready?

This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church, Johnstown, PA, on December 26, 1993, by Jim Stobaugh. References include: Walter Brueggemann, Hope in History.

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