Connections 01.01.2017: New Year’s Dawn

Isaiah 60:1-6, 19-22

It isn’t every year, of course, that Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays. But I think Sunday suits both holidays.

When I was young, our family had a piece of brown stone about the size of both of my hands. It was flat, polished on the front, and rough on the edges. I always thought its shape resembled my home state of Georgia. The stone featured an image of a young girl drawing water from a well, the sun spreading over the horizon. Beneath the image were the words, “How happy is the morning, when all is bright and new.” I have no idea of the origins of this stone, but I still remember how those words comforted me.

Morning, sunrise, a new day, the first day of a new week. All of these apply to the early hours of Sunday. All of them offer the chance to begin again—refreshed, rejuvenated, renewed. It is Sunday. And it is also New Year’s Day. We will wake Sunday morning—or watched the clock transition at midnight!—to a brand new year. The chance to begin again times 100.

And while we shouldn’t put off making positive changes until New Year’s Day—and we certainly shouldn’t make resolutions that we will never keep—the symbolic nature of January 1 gives us a powerful opportunity to look at life from a different angle.

In our Scripture, Isaiah is writing about a morning full of light. It makes me picture those mornings when I’m driving my girls to school. As we first get in the car, all we see are hints of the coming dawn—maybe orange, maybe pink, maybe streaks of purple beginning to blend into brighter blue. But there is a moment when the horizon lowers enough that the sunlight bursts over the edge of what our eyes can see, and our little corner of the world is filled with light.

I pray that, on this New Year’s Day, you are able to hear the Lord calling you to look to the everlasting light that dispels darkness once and for all. I pray that you will see the light that is Jesus Christ and let his light touch your life so that you, in turn, can touch others with the light of Christ. I pray that you’ll focus not so much on your temporary resolutions as on the truth that God—long, long ago at the beginning of time—resolved to hold you and keep you and shine the light of Jesus over you. May that light lead you boldly and securely into this new year.

Discussion

1. What are your New Year’s traditions? How do they help you transition from one year to another?
2. Are you a morning person? If so, what do you like about mornings? If not, what symbolic meaning can you find in the idea of starting a new day?
3. What do the images of light in today’s passage mean to you? Why do you think Isaiah uses these images?
4. How does light represent what God has done for us through Jesus Christ?
5. What can you do to focus on the truth that God resolved to hold you and keep you and shine the light of Jesus over you? How can you share that truth with others as you start this new year?

Reference Shelf

Zion’s Day Dawns, 60:1-22

The chapter builds upon chaps. 40 and 54. Jerusalem’s good news is about to become reality. It is a time when light replaces darkness, when people come to Zion from everywhere (vv. 1-5a), and its poverty is to be replaced by riches (vv. 5b-9). Foreigners help to rebuild the city and contribute to sacrificial offerings (v. 10).

The scene is described from another viewpoint in Ezra 7 and Neh 2. The key terms for the city is that it is to be glorified (vv. 7b, 9, 13, 19, 21). The riches of the nations are gathered to build the Temple, the walls, and the gates.

The government’s authority in the city is reestablished. Peace and order reign. This brings order and safety and the rights of Jews once again to own land (v. 21a). This implies Persian authority to uphold Jerusalem’s position (v. 12) and bring relief from oppressive neighbors (v. 14).

The LORD’s plan is to use Persian wealth and power to accomplish his purpose. When Artaxerxes re-establishes Persian authority in Jerusalem, the LORD’s presence, city, and Temple can flourish. What the Emperor dedicates to the LORD, the LORD gives to Jerusalem. These include:
-permission for Jews to travel (vv. 3-4; Ezra 7:13)
-support for rebuilding the Temple and the city (vv. 6-7, 11, 17; Ezra 7:15-16, 21; Neh 2:8-9, 13)
-support for operating the Temple (vv. 3-4, 9; Ezra 7:23, 26)
-threat of imperial reprisal for injury (vv. 12, 14; Ezra 7:23, 26)
-rights granted to administer the city under the Torah (Ezra 7:25) and the rights of inheritance (vv. 18, 21).

Light is a major theme in the chapter (vv. 1-3, 5a, 19-20). The idea of beautifying or glorifying the Temple and the city dominates the heart of the chapter (vv. 7b, 8, 9, 13, and 21). The call to rejoice appears in vv. 5a, 15b, 22.

John D. W. Watts, “Isaiah,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, Watson E. Mills et al (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995) 608-09.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a local charity serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (12) and Natalie (10) and her husband John. For fun, she tries to stay caught up on the latest amazing TV series (including Doctor Who, Sherlock, Gilmore Girls, and The Crown).

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