O come, thou Lord of might…

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

For the second time in a week, we find ourselves having to deal with an image of God that has gone out of fashion in recent years, the Lord of might.  Especially this time of year, we tend to want to picture Jesus as the meek and mild sort.

But if the Scriptural tradition is clear on anything, God is far from meek and mild.  Sure, he shows up for Elijah in the form of a still, soft voice, but elsewhere God is imaged as a pillar of fire and a cloud of smoke.  God commands the Hebrews to destroy every man, woman, and child they encounter on their way into the promised land and he rains down fire upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He’s even described as being jealous and uses Israel’s enemies to teach them a lesson or 10.

Yet all of this power and might is for a purpose: it is to lead us to the Kingdom.  Like a parent punishing a child, God uses might to attempt to bring his people back in to line.  More often than not, it wasn’t actual might that was used, but rather the awe and fear that was ingrained in His chosen people that did the trick.  Like the example in the verse of Veni, Veni, God’s might was framed in cloud, majesty and awe, calling his people to follow his lead toward the Kingdom.  It didn’t always work out well: for the people of Israel, for us, or for God, quite frankly, but the goal was always calling them all forward in relationship.

Ultimately, that power was made manifest in the most vulnerable of beings – a newborn child.  God joined history to redeem it and to redeem us, but more on that in tomorrow’s antiphon.

 

O come, thou Wisdom from on high…

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

The Wisdom tradition as it is associated with Jesus is probably the deepest and least discussed image of Messiahship in the Church, and I’m convinced that the fact that Wisdom is a feminine noun and imaged as women throughout the Old Testament is the key reason it is left wanting in the tradition.  In fact, it too quite a bit of searching to find a professionally recorded version of Veni, Veni on YouTube that includes this verse.

As the Word (Logos) of God, Jesus, especially in John’s prologue, is very intentionally associated with the idea of Wisdom (Sophia).  According to William Placher (Jesus the Savior, 2001), this connection is the result of a growing Wisdom tradition in the Second Temple period, and Christian attempts to explain a Triune God in the Monotheistic language of their tradition.

“Wisdom exists from eternity to eternity.  God made the earth through this divine Wisdom; Wisdom is  the radiance or image of God, the other of all good things.  By Wisdom ‘monarchs reign, and rulers decree what is just.’  Wisdom functions as the means by which God works salvation.” (p. 23)

He goes on to write:

“For Christians looking for a way to talk about the divine Christ who was distinct from the one he called Father without betraying Jewish monotheism, Wisdom offered an already available category.  Paul called Christ ‘the wisdom of God.’ (1 Cor. 1:24).  Just as Jews had earlier done with Wisdom, Paul and other New Testament writers identified Christ as the one through whom all things were made, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, and the radiance of God’s glory.” (p. 24)

We lose something when we ignore the role that Wisdom plays in the earliest understandings of who Jesus is and how his relationship with the Father changed the world.  We miss out on a way to speak to God’s transcendence of gender when we ignore the development of a theology of Wisdom in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon.  It is important as we prepare to move from waiting for the Messiah to the birth of Jesus that we remember those in ancient days who expected the arrival of the anointed one who would show us Wisdom, God’s divine mind and plan, and to rejoice that those expectations were fulfilled in the one we call Emmanuel.

Emmanuel

Last week, I got frustrated, yet again, with our Presiding Bishop because of her seemingly intentional non-use of the name Jesus in her official Christmas Letter.  Ignoring for a moment the way in which her brilliant mind constantly betrays my theory that theology that doesn’t speak to your typical Wal*Mart shopper is theology wasted, my biggest annoyance about her 7+ year Presiding Bishopric is her inability to say the name by which we are all saved, Jesus.

It isn’t that she doesn’t recognize Jesus as her Lord and Savior, I have no doubts about her faith in the risen Lord, there just seems to be something about the historical Jesus that trips her up.  Of course, that’s nothing new.  For two-thousand years, people have attempted to speak beyond the singular person of Jesus in order to more broadly reflect what it is the Messiah came to do.  He’s been called the Bright Morning Star, the Great High Priest, the Christ, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, the Son of Man and on and on.  My favorite nick-name for Jesus appears in this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Emmanuel.

According to my handy-dandy Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Emmanuel (also spelled Immanuel) is from Hebrew meaning “God with us.”  “A child in Isaiah’s writings, so named as a sign of God’s presence and protaection (Isa. 7:14, 8:8).  This is seen in the Gospel of Matthew as a prophecy of the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ, who will be called “God with us” (Matt. 1:23, citing Isa. 7:14). (pg 89)

I love that image of Emmanuel, God with us because of how it ties in with the great Prologue to John’s Gospel that we’ll hear read on Christmas I.  “The Word became flesh (a term +KJS is unafraid to us) and dwelt among us.”  Or, as Eugene Peterson put is “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”  God’s immanence in the person of Jesus is what changes the game in salvation history.  It is worth spending lots of time reflecting on that name, Emmanuel.

Conveniently, Emmanuel plays a key role in the only Advent hymn I care to sing, “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” is hymn number 56 in The Hymnal 1982.  The various verses can be used as antiphons to the Magnificat during the waning days of Advent, beginning on December 17.  So, as we transition from a season of expectation to season of joy my intent is to reflect upon the verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel each day from December 17th until the 23rd.  On the 24th, I’ll post my Christmas Eve Sermon and then turn my attention to Christmas 1.