‘Behold, I am doing a new thing! …Do you not perceive it?’ (Isaiah 43:19)
We use the word revolution a lot nowadays. But in truth, genuine revolutions are very rare. It may in fact be that we are living in one of those rare times, as the impact of COVID-19 forces us to re-imagine our whole way of life. Certainly this year we have witnessed a revolution in church life greater than anything since the Reformation, as large sections of the global church have moved online, and formed their community and mission in a completely new way. Whilst the change for some churches may prove to be temporary, for others, we may look back in decades to come and understand that something fundamental truly shifted in this season. Forced by circumstances beyond our control, nevertheless God birthed a great and unforeseen “new thing”. ‘Do we not perceive it?’
The prophet Isaiah also foresaw a ‘new thing’ – only this time its effects would only come to pass almost six centuries later. Many times over the vast intervening period, God’s people must have wondered – ‘is this the new thing?’ – only to witness so many false dawns. And then, suddenly, a faithful old priest wanders into the temple one evening and…. everything changes. A new prophet is coming, miraculously conceived, and uniquely ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born’ (v15).
I do feel some sympathy for Zechariah’s incredulity. But, at long last, what Isaiah saw all those years ago was finally coming to pass. The Spirit was once again on the move, and the world would never be the same.
It is interesting to reflect on the significance of John’s early spiritual anointing. We might rightly draw the conclusion that, in the age of the Spirit, children are now included in the outworking of God’s purposes as never before. And many of us can testify that this is true. We might also see John’s unique anointing as a prophetic staging post to another child – John’s cousin – who is not just filled with the Spirit, but conceived by God the Holy Spirit six months later.
But today, let’s notice that John’s spiritual anointing was for a purpose. He was filled for fruitfulness. His task would be to ‘go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (v17).
We can sometimes caricature seeking the Spirit as some sort of sanctified ego trip, to feel something like a great big cuddle from God. And, occasionally, that is what we need. But most of the time, God draws near to us and fills us with His Spirit for a reason. We are filled for fruitfulness. God has plans for each of us, which He empowers us to fulfil by His Spirit.
Lockdowns and viruses do not frustrate God’s purposes. Nothing does. We all still have a part to play. How is God filling you for fruitfulness? What is The Spirit empowering you for in this season?