Wednesday, December 02, 2009

O Come, Emmanuel; O Come, Thou Wisdom from on High (An Advent Sermon)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Dear Redeemed by the Wisdom of God Come in Human Flesh:

Scripture reminds us of the demands made upon God by our rebel world and its inhabitants. "Prove yourself to us and then we will believe in you. Come and show your glory to us and then we will give you our worship and praise. Come and explain yourself to us, show us your wisdom and power and glory, and then we will acknowledge you as God."
That has been the demand set before the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth since the beginning - since the fall into sin by our first wayward parents, Adam and Eve. They demanded an explanation. They desired the wisdom that was with God the Father from before the beginning. But what did they receive on account of their rebellion and doubt and unbelief? A twisted wisdom, a corrupt understanding, a self-centered and sin-stained view of their God, themselves, and the kind of redemption God would set into motion to save the two of them and their children.
For you see God needs to come and save us his way — in a way unknown to the wisdom of the world. In a way unknown to the wisdom of our fallen nature that thinks everything is resolved through the use of human cunning and power and might. It's just like my best friend use to say when he was working on the assembly line in a Chrysler plant: "If it doesn't fit - get a bigger hammer."
That was the way of murderous Cain and inheritance-stealing Jacob. That was the way of those who began to build the Tower of Babel. That was the way of Judas the betrayer. That has been the way of the world and the world's religions. And that is what is being pedaled by today's evangelists of the world's wisdom: turn you life around and take heaven by storm through your great promises and intentions and positive thoughts and good energy. Create your own positive future. Create your own blessed life. Create your own great relationship with God and everyone in your life by creating a new life for yourself.
And our old nature instinctively follows, thinking, "That makes perfect sense. I will create my own redemption through my dedication and decision and determination to make things right between me and my God."
But what do we read in Scripture with the eyes of God-given faith in his Word and Wisdom? Heaven had a very different plan — a plan that was completely outside the box of the world's wisdom, completely foolish and crazy and senseless. A plan that would make mouths drop in speechless awe and amazement. God securing salvation for helpless sinners who put their hope in God's form of wisdom.
God himself would establish salvation for his rebel people. God himself would set up redemption and secure heaven for those who continued to foolishly think they could straighten the whole mess out themselves if just given another chance. And God would do it in a way hidden from the wisdom and logic of the world. God would shatter all human reason by sending forth his very Word to make satisfaction for all sin.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Saint Paul writes to the Church in Corinth:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power 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. (1Corinthians 1:18-25 ESV)

This week the season of preparation begins, four weeks that calls to us and the world to listen to the Word and Wisdom of God himself. To close our mouths and in silence wait for heaven's own unexpected sign, heaven's own unexpected wisdom in making sense out of what has become a meaningless world of toil and sweat and heartache and despair and death.
In this too-often neglected season of Advent, heaven's wisdom calls out to all who will listen in faith, to all who mourn over their sin, to all who will acknowledge that we are in spiritual exile by what we have inherited from our first parents — and from the sin we have done and the good we have failed to do. Especially the sin of putting our trust in salvation done the world's way - independent of God's Word through the prophets and apostles, independent of God's Word through water, independent of God's Word through bread and wine.
Wisdom calls out, but in a way we would have never guessed, never have imagined in a thousand years. For, when it comes to our salvation, heaven's wisdom cries out — from a lowly manger in a lowly cattle stall in a lowly village, the son of the lowliest of maidens, the son of a lowly carpenter. All to establish God's redemption. All to win his ransomed people. All to shame the wisdom of the world. All to shame what makes perfect sense to us and to those who continue to believe if they just figure everything out, then they will win reconciliation before God and their estranged neighbor on their own terms.
God sent his wisdom to shame the world's wisdom, that we would despair of our own deluded ideas about how we think redemption should work, and embrace the wisdom of God — the wisdom of God that comes not as a coded inscription on an Egyptian pyramid, not as a mysterious date on a Mayan calendar, not as a magic formula re-discovered at Stonehenge, not as the world's practical advise on how to truly find God by truly finding yourself.
What does God declare to that part of each of us that thinks we can figure it all out and discover for ourselves the wisdom that will save our souls and give meaning to the rest of our lives?

... let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:7-11 ESV)

It is the high-soaring Gospel of Saint John that announces to all who will listen with the ears of faith that the Word of God has come in human flesh to redeem human flesh by the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross.
And it is the antiphons of Advent that proclaim that it is this wisdom from the mouth of God that gives divine order and knowledge of salvation to those who will confess with repentant hearts, "Unless I am taught by the Wisdom of God made flesh and blood, I will perish. Unless I am known by my Redeemer, and connected to his substitutionary death and resurrection, I am an eternal exile of the kingdom of heaven. Unless God sends his dear, only-begotten Son to save, I will die in my sin and foolishness."
The season of Advent would have us prepared for Christmas by the very Word of God, the very Wisdom of God, the very Son of God and Mary's Son, even Christ Jesus our Lord.
The wisdom of God made man — to shatter the foolishness of a world that can only conform Christ's birth to it's own fallen version of power and wisdom and glory and might.

The great Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and the Advent antiphons that shaped it, call on the faithful to measure our Christmas preparations by the litmus test of God's unexpected wisdom. The wisdom that unites the wood and nails of the manger with the wood and nails of the cross; the wisdom that unites beasts of burden in a Bethlehem cave with those burdened with the load of their sin and shame; the wisdom that will only receive Christmas Day through the lens of Good Friday and Jesus' work on Calvary.
The lowly Son of the virgin Mary sent as the wisdom of God and the sign of God only heaven's gift of faith will see and receive.

O Come, O come, Emmanuel.
O Come, O Come, Thou Wisdom from on High.

Come and do your saving work of revealing and ransoming the clueless, we who would always get it wrong if left to our own fallen intuition and heart and pride. Come and conform Christmas to the image of your incarnate Son — and to the image of his Cross.
In repentant joy, may God through his Word and promise, ever prepare us for his unexpected coming to save.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit