“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Most often in the scriptures it seems like we are called upon to remember, and rightly so. We are called upon to remember how God has moved and how he has worked on our behalf. We are called upon to remember how he has provided for our needs and how he has guided our paths over the course of our lifetime, as well as that of our ancestors. We are called upon to remember how he has protected us from our enemies, defended us from peril, and fought for us when we were too weak, or powerless, or exhausted to fight for ourselves. Remembering is a very good thing.
But, interestingly enough, in this instance we are actually called upon to forget. Forgetting, it seems, is also a significant part of the spiritual journey. Especially when we are being called upon to forget one thing, in order that God can begin to do a new thing. Because somehow not forgetting the former things actually keeps us from being able to perceive the new thing that is being born within us or among us. But how are we to know when we are to do one versus the other? What does it mean to forget the former things? And what things are we really talking about here?
Maybe what God is really trying to get at in this passage is the idea that, at times, we have the tendency to hold onto the old at the expense of the new. And when I say old, I am not just referring to the old in a negative sense, I am also referring to old in a more positive way. We seem to have the tendency to think that just because God acted in one particular way, at a particular time and place, that he will always act in just that way. We tend to expect and demand, and even try to determine, how and where and when God will show up in our current story. The problem with that is it keeps us from being open to the new thing God seems to be birthing within and among us.
If we hold too tightly to the way things "always have been," or to the ways that God always has come thus far, we shut ourselves off to the new thing that he is trying to do. Therefore, we must forget. But forgetting the former things does not mean forgetting what God has done, maybe it means only forgetting the way in which he has done them. We should not come to expect, or demand, that he always do things in that particular way from here on out. In that sense don't dwell on the past might actually mean don't live in the past. Do not limit your vision for, or your openness to, what God might be up to and how he might be up to it. Don't always expect that he will show up exactly the same way as he did before, or in exactly the same form. If you do that, you will likely miss the new that he is trying to bring about.
The season of Advent is that time where we are encouraged to always be ready for however and wherever and whenever God might come. Because he will come. A friend of mine reminded me this week that, "We come into Advent this year different than we did the last. We are different people, in a different place, with a different set of circumstances." A lot of water has passed under our bridge since we last came to the season of watching and waiting. So, if we are different people, wouldn't it make sense that God would want to come to us in a new and different way? A way that addresses the time and the place and the season we now find ourselves living in? Therefore, we must not stubbornly cling to our old ways and demands and expectations, but we must be open to receiving this new thing that we, thus far, have not perceived. In some way, we must become a blank page, waiting to be filled. The problem is that being a blank page is vulnerable and uncomfortable. Thus, we have a tendency to fill our pages at any and every opportunity. Therefore, during this season, it might actually take some emptying before we are able to perceive, and then receive, this new thing. That's where the forgetting comes in. It could be that the story of the nativity has grown so familiar to us that we have forgotten that one of the essential elements of the story in the first place is that God came in a way and a form and a place that no one expected. Should we expect that this Advent and Christmas will be any different?