ISAIAH 63:7-9

7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
    the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
    and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
8 For he said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
9     in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
    but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66) was likely composed sometime after the return of the exiles from Babylonia, when the people of Judah were rebuilding upon the ruins of once-glorious Jerusalem. While the author of Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), writing during the period of exile, had developed the metaphors of his displaced generation as the scapegoat of world redemption and the suffering servant of God’s saving purpose in history, this last section of the book reflects the concerns of a more settled community.

References to God carry a consistent acknowledgment of divine transcendence, and the community is quite obviously shifting in its self-awareness as an agency of evangelistic fulfillment (Second Isaiah’s theme) to becoming increasingly involved in the sacramental practice of remembrance and worship.

The spiritual life very clearly moves through seasonal cycles, with each “season” presenting the organizing motifs of our journey into God peculiar to its location in the larger rhythm of time. Typically a period of establishment and expansion (thesis) will give way to a season of crisis and redefinition (antithesis), which in turn opens out to yet another time of reorientation and new (or renewed) commitment (synthesis).

Eventually this synthesis itself becomes the status quo that must break open or break down for the deeper impetus of growth to advance. Staying in one place or remaining permanently the same is never a viable option – unless our goal is extinction!

                                                                                                    

It is typically in retrospect that we can see God’s present hand at work through the ordeals, adversities, and bereavements of life. When we are blessed in these difficult moments with an “angel” of mercy, guidance, or strength (depending on our need), the timely ministry of our angel is often seen only afterwards as the incarnated grace of very God (in the language of the old creeds).

This may be because our notions of the Divine have become so trapped in transcendence as to disqualify in our minds even the possibility of the Real Presence of God in the midst of it all.

That is, in fact, the essential crisis of the middle period, experienced and universally symbolized in the imagery of autumn (fall) and winter, when the life seems to be draining from the world we once thought was so secure. According to the theory of faith development, this is the “dark night” when our (idea of) God is no longer sufficient to our actual need.

The danger is that we might insist even more frantically (and fanatically) that our (idea of) God remain unchanged, and thereby deny (reject, suppress, rationalize) our actual experience – and with it the authenticity of our spiritual life.

In the third phase of synthesis (the coming-together of a new perspective), that earlier time of denial and absence becomes the birthplace of Emmanuel – “God with us.”

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