The book of Ezekiel was written during the Babylonian domination of Judah. Ezekiel was taken off into exile in Babylon about 10 years before the eventual destruction of Judah took place. Prior to that destruction, his oracles focused on the impending doom that awaited Judah because of how they abandoned God. Once the destruction occurred, Ezekiel kept writing. But his words turned to themes of renewed hope and restoration for the people of Judah. Ezekiel proclaimed that the Babylonian punishment and devastation would pass and that there would be a time in the near future in which Israel would experience hope once more.
In Ezekiel 36:26 the prophet writes: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” It is with this new heart and new spirit that Israel will forge onward and turn their devastation into hope; their destruction into restoration; their death into life. As I read this text once again, the word that stands out for me is the word “new.” God will give the people a new heart and a new spirit. And it is with this new heart and spirit that Israel will have a fresh beginning as they move beyond the Babylonian exile.
A new year is now upon us. Every year at this time, we close one year out and we begin another one. We can easily move from one year to the next without thinking about it. As soon as January 1 is over, my calendar fills up with meetings and obligations almost as if nothing happened. But something does happen on January 1 of each year. A new year begins. We face another year of opportunities to serve God and follow Christ. We face another year of opportunities to turn wrongs into rights. We face another year of opportunities to discover what it is that God wants us to do. What if we each entered this new year with a new heart and a new spirit as Ezekiel suggests? What if we asked God to bring new energy and new insight to us? What if we embraced the new heart and the new spirit that God has in store for us?
A new year is before us. For some of us the coming of this new year will be uneventful. We may not face a dramatic transition from despair to hope like the Babylonian exiles did. But we face a transition that will make us all one year older and hopefully one year wiser. As we move into this transition, let us take on the upcoming year with a new heart and a new spirit and let us be mindful that it is from God that this new heart and new spirit comes.