Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent - Season of Wisdom

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviter disponens que omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
O Antiphon, December 17

Reflection – The first O Antiphon invokes Christ under the title of ‘wisdom’. Christ, the wisdom of God. The description of this Wisdom who is identified here (innovatively, from a strictly biblical point of view) with the Messiah of Israel, is from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

Wisdom can seem like a somewhat esoteric word for us, some kind of far up there knowledge about hidden mysteries or some insight about the core verities of life given only to an elite few. This is not exactly the Scriptural view of it. Wisdom, scripturally, is first a deeply practical affair.

Wisdom is know-how, in the original Jewish sense of it. It is craftsmanship, knowing how to make something well, how to produce good and useful objects. The Jews of the Old Testament were an intensely practical people on the whole, little interested in abstract speculation about life. To be wise was to know how to do things well.

It is later extension of that principle to the whole task of making a life, living a life. To be wise was to know how to live well, how to flourish in this world. The wisdom literature of the Bible is filled with all sorts of proverbs and homely advice about any number of things – how to succeed in one’s work, in marriage, in the life of the village or city, etc.

Of course even practical people cannot avoid entirely the bigger questions, and so you have wisdom literature like Job, which tackles with ruthless honesty the question of suffering and injustice, and Ecclesiastes, which tackles the question of despair and futility with equal searing honesty.

Neither of those books provides any real answer to the questions they raise, and so the whole wisdom movement of the Old Testament is an unresolved matter. We need more information; we need input from the One who mightily and sweetly disposed the universe as it is, to know how we are to move wisely and well in it.

And so, O Wisdom, Come! Jesus is the answer, in a certain sense, to the question of Job (why do the innocent suffer?) and of Qoheleth (what is the use of anything at all in a world where everything dies?). But what an answer. God, who fashioned the heavens and the earth, who is mighty in power and sweet in compassion, answers the enigma of suffering and death by coming to… well, to suffer and die.

The Wisdom that is Jesus in one sense makes the mystery of life in this world that much more mysterious. There are no pat answers given in the path of wisdom. And wouldn’t that be a terrible insult from God, really, if He gave us such answers? Given what we have all experienced in ourselves or in people we love in the normal course of life—the sufferings of parents at the death of a child, the anguish of debilitating mental or physical illness, the ravages of abuse and childhood trauma—wouldn’t it be an utter insult if God was to give us some simplistic answer to the great dilemma of suffering and death?

No, the reality is a deep and dark mystery, and so is God’s answer. But the darkness of God’s wisdom contains a light within it that is luminous enough to flood the whole cosmos with light. A child is born in Bethlehem to live and die for us, and that child is God, and his life and death will subtly and utterly  change the whole pattern of the universe forever.

And so our prayer of this Child, this Wisdom, is to teach us the way of prudence. As he has ordered the cosmos in a certain way by his coming among us, so we ask Him to show us how to order our lives rightly and well, in wisdom according to the pattern of life he has laid down for us. Teach us how to live and how to die, how to suffer and how to rejoice. Teach us the way that You are, so that we can find our place in the kingdom which your wisdom has established, and come to the place which is beyond suffering and death, where the wise light of the Trinity illuminates the minds, hearts, and bodies of all who dwell therein. Amen.

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