Christ, Our Wisdom and Might
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The text for this evening is our Old Testament lesson, Proverbs 8:32-36: “And now, O sons, listen to Me: blessed are those who keep My ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting beside My doors. For whoever finds Me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who fails to find Me injures himself; all who hate Me love death.”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Wisdom speaks, promising life and blessings to those who will listen, to those who hear its instruction and keep its virtuous ways; but warning of disaster and death to those who do not. Given such a choice, who would not heed Wisdom’s call? Only a fool! But that’s the problem. By our sinful nature, we are all fools, not only unable to grasp Wisdom’s call to a better life, but stubbornly resistant, clinging to our own pride and perversity to the bitter end.
My old boss, Ralph Korn, had a favorite saying: “We grow too soon old and too late schmart.” I used to hear it so often I found it to quite be irritating. But looking back more than twenty years, I now realize that this may be a profound truth. The years pass by so fast, but wisdom doesn’t come quite as quickly.
There’s a reason experience is called “the school of hard knocks”—every valuable thing we learn comes at a price. It took September 11th to teach the United States that terrorism isn’t a problem “over there,” but right here at home. It took a stock-market crash in October of 1929 to teach our great-grandparents that the good times don’t last forever. It took a Hiroshima for us to learn just how awful and ugly war can get. Closer to home, it takes an illness or death to teach us that we won’t live forever. We grow too soon old and too late smart. Death finally hits home, and we realize too late what “the end” really means.
This Advent we are reflecting on the “O Antiphons.” An antiphon is a little framing verse that is sung before and after a canticle or psalm. It serves to focus our attention on a particular emphasis of that canticle or psalm. The O Antiphons are verses that summarize and reflect a different aspect of God’s work in Jesus Christ. Traditionally they were sung or recited at Vespers during the last seven days of Advent, preceding the reading or singing of the Psalm, the Magnificat, or the Benedictus. If you take a look, you’ll see that they are placed in our hymnal immediately following hymn #357, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Notice the structure of the seven antiphons. Each one consists of three parts. First, there is an address to Christ, using the vocative “O” and a biblical title to address Him: “O Wisdom”; “O Adonai”; “O Root of Jesse”; “O Key of David”; “O Dayspring”; “O King of the nations”; and “O Emmanuel.” The second part of each antiphon is a description of something about Christ that fits the title. For example, in “O Dayspring,” the words “splendor of light everlasting” amplify that particular term. The third part of the antiphon is a petition, a prayer to Christ, asking Him to “Come” and do thus and such, whatever it is, in order to help us. Interestingly, the first letters of the Latin titles for the Messiah taken backwards form an acrostic of “Ero Cras,” which translates to “Tomorrow, I will come,” mirroring the theme of the antiphons and of the Advent season.
“Oh, well, now all that’s pretty informative, Pastor,” you might say. “I learned something new tonight.” But, my friends, these O Antiphons are not merely dusty artifacts from the distant past that we’re just taking out for a stroll down memory lane. They are not simply relics of ancient history to be left in their glass cases for those interested in old “churchy” things. No, these are prayers that you can use now, especially in Advent. For they address the living Christ, who still comes to help His people. Through these O Antiphons, we learn to know Christ more fully and to call upon Him in faith.
Each stanza of the hymn “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” is a paraphrase of one of these O Antiphons (which also happen to be in reverse order). Each midweek service, we will be praying them and discussing them in greater detail in the sermon. Tonight it is Wisdom and Might from the second and third stanzas.
We just sang: “Oh, come, Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high, Who ordered all things mightily, To us the path of knowledge show, And teach us in her ways to go.” The original version of this antiphon we just read asks Christ to “come and teach us the way of wisdom.” So, what is this Wisdom? Someone once said that knowledge is observing the fact that it’s raining, but wisdom is knowing to bring an umbrella. I might add that’s it’s not just about knowing to bring an umbrella, either, but actually using the umbrella when it rains. That’s not a bad way to understand wisdom. Knowledge is about facts and information; wisdom is applied knowledge. You might even say it’s saving knowledge. If you’re wise enough to bring an umbrella with you when it rains, then you’ll save your clothes from getting wet. You may also save yourself from pneumonia.
But the kind of wisdom we are talking about here is not just an abstract concept. In our Old Testament reading, Proverbs 8, Wisdom actually speaks: “I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence.” This could just be a poetic personification of how wisdom could speak. A little later, though, Wisdom says: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”
In verses 15–16, Wisdom says: “By Me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by Me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.” Later on in verse 27-31, we read, “When He established the heavens, I was there . . . when He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him, like a master workman, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.”
This Wisdom, then, is living. It has a personality. It is eternal. From the very beginning, before the first thought formed by man or angel, this Wisdom was there. This Wisdom sets things in order and rules over all things. This is the Wisdom of God. In fact, the Church has always understood God’s Wisdom to have another name: the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God Incarnate, because it fits so well with what we know about Christ from other parts of Scripture.
For instance, in Colossians 1, we read: “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
It is this same idea in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything that was made.” The Greek term Logos, “the Word,” is being used in much the same way as “Wisdom”. Christ is the one who was with God in the beginning, who is true God in His substance, who was active in the work of creation, and who gives order and meaning to all things. Christ is the Wisdom of God come in human flesh!
This is what we’re waiting for in Advent: the coming of God’s Wisdom into our world. This same Wisdom that created all things, that rules all things, can now save all things, especially His creatures, who have turned away from God’s Wisdom to their own. God’s Wisdom can do something our wisdom can never do. God’s Wisdom can cheat and defeat death. God’s Wisdom can save.
That brings us to the second “O Antiphon,” reflected in the third stanza of our hymn: “Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of Might, Who to Your tribes on Sinai’s height In ancient times gave holy law, In cloud and majesty and awe.” Not only is Christ the Wisdom of God, but He is also the Lord of Might.
Even though our hymn focuses on the Lord of Might giving “holy law,” the real emphasis is on the salvation that came with that Law. The only reason the Israelites were at Sinai with the Lord was because He had rescued them from Egypt. He had saved them from slavery. Our second antiphon tonight tells us the most important thing about God’s Wisdom—it’s always revealed in saving acts.
The Lord of Might who revealed Himself on Sinai’s height rescued Noah and his family from the flood. The Lord of Might raised up judges to save His people from invaders and enemies. The Lord of Might gave Israel a faithful king in David and protected Israel even when they rebelled against Him. The Lord of Might sent prophet after prophet after prophet, calling His people to repentance, promising them life and salvation. The Lord of Might saved Israel from exile in Babylon, an exile they all deserved for their unfaithfulness toward Him.
Maybe the best (and strangest) Old Testament example of the Lord of Might’s salvation is seen in Hosea. God told the prophet Hosea to marry and care for an unfaithful woman, a prostitute, named Gomer. In the world’s eyes, Hosea was pretty foolish. He knew he was marrying someone who was not going to make a good wife. She didn’t have a very good reputation. The Lord Himself calls her “a wife of whoredom.” No one would have thought badly of Hosea if he had hightailed it out of there. That would have been wise in our eyes, wouldn’t it?
But the Wisdom of God is not our wisdom. Praise be to God it’s not! Hosea married her. And when Gomer went chasing after other lovers, the Lord instructed Hosea to take her back. It cost him fifteen shekels of silver and nine bushels of barley to buy her back, not to mention his reputation and pride. Hosea would be a living demonstration of the Lord’s love toward His unfaithful people. Adonai, the Lord of Might, is the God who redeems. The Lord God acts in history to redeem and rescue and deliver His people from their distress. And so often He does it in the most unexpected ways, in ways that seem weak and foolish to the world.
What we’re looking forward to this Advent is the Lord of Might coming into our world as a little baby. God’s Wisdom was born of Mary to demonstrate the unimaginable depth of the Father’s love for us. The Lord of Might came to save us from ourselves. He came to save us from our adultery and idolatry. He came to save us from our rebellion and sin against Him. Most important, He came to save us from death and hell itself. The Lord of Might came to redeem us.
Christ is coming to be our Redeemer. We were in bondage to sin and Satan and were unable to free ourselves. But just as God acted to deliver the people of Israel, so He acts to deliver us. For Israel, it was the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorpost that spared them from death and set them free from their oppression. For us, it is the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God Himself, in Christ, sheds His own blood to set us free and to bring us into new life and the eternal Promised Land.
We call on Christ as Adonai, Lord of Might, to praise Him for the redemption He brings. He comes with an outstretched arm and redeems us. Indeed, it was Christ’s outstretched arms on the cross that brought it to pass. By His suffering and death on the cross, by the holy blood Christ shed for us there, our sins are forgiven, death passes over, and we are delivered. Christ has risen from the dead and leads us out of the land of bondage and death, leading the way for us through the wilderness of this world. And He will, at the Last Day, bring us up and into the Promised Land of heaven.
Christ, the Lord of Might, comes into our world as Wisdom in the flesh. He shows us the right way in which to walk. And He not only shows and tells us, He does something about it! He walks the way of the cross for us, in order to redeem us from our sin, in order to exchange His perfect obedience and righteousness for our rebellion and sin, in order to suffer and die for His wayward creatures!
That’s why we preach Christ crucified. This is foolishness and a stumbling block to the world that is perishing, but to those who are called by the Word of God, it is the Might of God and the Wisdom of God. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men… But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us Wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:25 ff.).
Yes, Christ crucified is God’s Wisdom and Might for you. Wait for Him. Seek Him. Keep His way. Learn of Him. Hear His Word. Listen to His teaching. Rejoice in His grace. For in Christ alone you find God’s favor and life. Indeed, for the sake of our crucified and risen Christ, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. That is to say: you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.