First in a Series of Seven Sermons on The Great “O” Antiphons
Proverbs 8:1-3, 22-26 and I Corinthians 1:25 – 30
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things; Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Advent hymn, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” has ancient roots. Since the 8th century A.D. Christians have traditionally sung these 7 great antiphons. The word antiphon means response, and they were sung to readings for the seven days before Christmas. They mine the riches of the Old Testament to portray the many facets of our Savior, as tender wisdom, as mighty Warrior, as rightful Heir, as forgiving Savior, as unparalleled Light, as Regal King, as God with us.
Perhaps you have heard the saying that Wisdom and age don’t always come together, sometimes age comes alone. Actually the exact quote from a comedian named Tom Wilson is, “Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up by itself.”
Here at Trinity it seems as if wisdom is coming with age. Now the world defines wisdom pretty much as good common sense, but the central theme of Israelite wisdom is that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” With that in mind, I would remind you that we are in the second year of a three year shared vision statement, which is simply this, “Our Shared Vision is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ.” And the first habit of a Christian whose life is being transformed by the Gospel is “to receive gratefully God’s good gifts in Divine Service.” Recently Donita printed out for me a list of all 1778 members of this congregation according to age, starting with Ardis Erdman at age 100 all the way down to our newborn infants. I did a little analysis of a few different age groups here at Trinity, and here is what I found. 100% of members age 90 – 100, 15 of them, regularly hear the Word of God and receive Holy Communion. 100% of members age 80 – 89, all 58 of them, regularly hear the Word of God and receive Holy Communion. 95% of members in their 70’s, and there are over 100 of them, regularly hear the word of God and receive Holy Communion. When I went to those age 20-29, I found that at the most 25% of the 225 20 somethings are finding time to regularly hear God’s Word and receive their Lord’s Supper. You can spin that however you want to spin it.
Here’s my first takeaway, and it’s a positive one. At least here at Trinity, it seems as though old age isn’t just showing up by itself, wisdom in virtually all cases, is coming with it.
James reminds us that true wisdom is from above and that it is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Our sermon for today has two parts. The first is that wisdom is the beloved daughter, and the second is that wisdom is the firstborn son.
Wisdom is the beloved (daughter). The Book of Proverbs is a result of God giving Solomon that which he asked for – wisdom and understanding with which to govern the people. Solomon frequently describes wisdom as a dear mother or beloved bride.Like most languages, the Hebrew word for wisdom is grammatically feminine. By characterizing wisdom as a woman, Solomon uses this grammar for a play onwords, which is a common feature in his writing style. In our text for today, in chapter 8, wisdom is personified as a good woman, in stark contrast to the adulterous woman of chapter 7. The good woman’s purpose is to enlighten and give life, in contrast to the harlot, who aims to deceive and destroy. The good woman encourages in the right direction, in contrast to the prostitute who leads astray. Wisdom is from on high, in contrast to the foolishness of the demons below. Three truths Solomon would teach us about this good woman – what she was, what she is, and how she spends her days.
First, She (was) before the beginning. Solomon writes, 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.” Here wisdom does more than take on godly characteristics. Here wisdom takes on the nature of God himself and plays a role in the creation of the world.
Secondly, She (is) stationed at the crossroads to be heard. Unlike the harlot who lurks at every street corner, wisdom stations herself to be heard in the midst of life. Wisdom makes an appeal for everyone. All the descendants of Adam need wisdom, for we are all part of a fallen race. It is in our sinful nature to be fools and to say that there is no God. No man can say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. The only way to be in the Christian faith and to be growing in that faith is for the Holy Spirit to be working inside of us. Paul writes that faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Often Jesus would tell a parable and follow it up by raising his voice and calling out, “He who has ears let him hear.”
A third lesson we learn about wisdom in Proverbs 8 is that She spends her days calling out to the (vulnerable). In the previous chapter Solomon compared young men who were being led astray by the persuasive words of the adulterous woman to oxen going to the slaughter, to deer stepping into a noose and having an arrow pierce his liver, to a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Just a couple of days ago, a young lady who has gone through drug addiction and all the nasty troubles that so often come along with it, came back to our church office for a visit. She had attended our Lutheran School for a time, and was a member of one of our Confirmation Classes years ago. She has told me on several occasions that our sanctuary and our school had been a safe place for her, a place where she found refuge and strength. She took her boyfriend into this sanctuary and wrote how she was proud of this church and the serenity she felt here. She said this for all her friends to read on Facebook, “ I always feel like home here, it's insane how some kids come back home and it's just another day, I stop by and get emotional because this place was where I was happy, surrounded by love, childhood memories and will always have a piece of me. I may have been born in Owatonna, moved around a bit, but I will have always been raised in Janesville. Pastor thank you for never turning your back on me and keeping me close with our savior and I'm proud to say, in 4 days, I will have 11 months clean. Sitting in the church with the same scribble cards and same look, I did the same thing that I used to do, just be at one and look up at the son, Christ our lord and felt safe and not alone.” Just be at one and look up at the son, Christ our lord and felt safe and not alone. It seems as though wisdom from on high is slowly but surely chasing away the demons of foolishness.
It seems as though the seeds of wisdom planted in her heart at ages 10-14 are bearing fruit some 15 years later, which would remind us to never give up on our young people as they travel through years of getting tossed to and fro by the temptations and the trials of life, especially in their 20’s. Robert Gary Lee wrote that “wisdom is nothing more than healed pain,” which would remind us that the only way to have a tested and tried Christian faith is to be tested and tried. St. Augustine wrote that “Patience is the companion of wisdom, which would remind us to stick with people through thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in good health.
James wrote that when we meet trials of various kinds, we should count it all joy, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
Asking for wisdom from on high is simply asking for Jesus to come more and more into our hearts. Asking Jesus to be Who He is and has promised to be, the best friend we’ll ever have, the faithful brother who absolutely sticks with usin every chapter of life. Which is our second and final lesson for this morning - Wisdom is the firstborn (Son) of God. Jesus Christ is wisdom incarnate, wisdom in the flesh.
Proverbs 8, verses 23 ff declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began, When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water, before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth….I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep….then I was the craftsman at his side The first of three points we would make about Wisdom as the first born Son is that Jesus is begotten, not (made) No one writes more eloquently that John, “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 made that was made.
Secondly, we are reminded in this first antiphon that He holds the universe together in strong, yet (gentle) manner. Jesus is the creator of all that is invisible and visible. On the one hand, He rules the nations with omnipotence, and on the other hand He sends His Church out to preach the sweetest and kindest story ever told. At the same time He rules with power and with grace. On the one hand, His throne is in the heavens and on the other hand His kingdom comes every time a little bit of water is poured over the head of a little one, every time sorry sinners eat an unimpressive bit of bread and taste an ounce or two of ordinary wine. On the one hand, with irresistible power all things exist and move according to His will, and on the other hand, His grace moves in our tired and weary souls, drawing us closer and closer and teaching us slowly but surely to say no to ungodliness and yes to that which is excellent and worthy of praise.
I invite you to spend this season of Advent worshiping, trusting, and boasting. We would worship Christ as the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made. We would trust Him as the One Who even now sits at the right hand of His Father, ruling all of heaven and earth with authority. And third, we go back into our little corners of His Kingdom and spend our days boasting in the One Who saves by way of (foolishness). Not with gold and silver did our Savior purchase us, but with holy precious blood, with divine sweat, and with innocent tears. We have been called and gathered into this sanctuary today not as people with worldly wisdom nor power nor prestige, but as hungry beggars looking for a little bit of bread, as thirsty travelers crying out for just a little bit of water, as wanderers looking for a little bit of direction, as unimpressive people in awe of a perfectly impressive God.
Come, teach us the way of (prudence) Prudence comes from a Latin word which means to look ahead, to see into the future. To be prudent is to be wise in practical affairs, and to provide for your future. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town saved by way of foolishness, traveling their way through Advent, spending their days living with purpose. Saved by way of the cross, worshiping at a manger, and crying out for prudence. They know that without the virtue of prudence, courage becomes foolhardiness, mercy encourages laziness, and weakness turns into spinelessness. And so they cry out for that wisdom which will enable them to look beyond this life which is short and full of trouble. That wisdom which will actually increase as they attend the school of hard knocks and climax as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. They spend their December not so much rushing around faster and faster, but being still, going slow, and rejoicing in the lover of their souls, the forgiver of their sins.
Less and less are they confused by the noisiness and the loudness of the culture, but more and more comforted by the clarity of the church. Less and less do they worry and are they anxious about what is to come, but more and more they cry out to Emmanuel to come back again, and to come quickly. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther