Beloved. Today is a very unique day. It is both the Fourth Sunday in Advent and it is also Christmas Eve. It is the Fourth Sunday in Advent now, in the morning; and it is Christmas Eve this evening. Today serves “double duty” because the Church follows the Jewish practice of considering the days to begin at sundown. A day is from sundown to sundown, not from morning to morning of how we usually think of it, or the more technical midnight to midnight. We trace this usage back to Genesis where the Lord has St. Moses record: So the evening and the morning were first/ second… day. First comes the evening, then the morning. So this evening, then, liturgically, is Christmas. That’s why we can celebrate Christmas and have all its joy seemingly hours before it technically starts.
But this is still the morning so we observe today, now, the Fourth Sunday in Advent. So that means that we are still, in spirit, joined with the OT faithful looking forward to/ longing for that announcement [Lk. 2.11]: There is born for you this day…a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. We still have a few hours left to make use of Advent’s time of quiet contemplation, preparation, self-examination before hearing the announcement of Jesus’ birth tonight. If you haven’t made right use of Advent to reflect on your sin and your need for a Savior; if you haven’t taken advantage of Advent’s opportunity to recognize and, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, to sweep sin out of your heart, you still have a few hours. And how glorious Christmas’ proclamation will then be for you!
In this final service of the Advent season, as we, in spirit, still find ourselves longing for the announcement of Jesus’ coming to be our Savior, we pray in the words of the favorite Advent hymn: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” What this hymn does is in each stanza it takes us back in time to the OT people to await with them the long promised and awaited Messiah. It is full of beautiful biblical imagery taken from the Old Testament, from the hopes of the OT people, to proclaim the Savior’s coming. Each stanza of this hymn calls the coming Savior by a different name drawn from the OT. This favorite Advent hymn, with its description of Jesus using different names and images from the OT to express our longing for Jesus to come, our longing to hear once again Christmas’ proclamation, has its roots in the so-called “O Antiphons” going back around to the 8th century. These “O Antiphons” were chanted in the Church before and after the chanting of the Magnificat during the vespers services from 17-23 December. As we sing “Come, O Come, Emmanuel” we are also joining our Advent prayer with that of the Church of the past 12 or 13 centuries. The only unfortunate thing is that our hymnal only has four of the 7 stanzas. The O Antiphon we are considering today: O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge—is the first O Antiphon, meant to be chanted on 17 December, is, unfortunately, one not included in our hymnal but does, thankfully, appear in the newer synodical hymnals.
In this first O Antiphon, the OT image of Jesus that is used is that of Wisdom. That image of Jesus as Holy Wisdom was picked up by St. Paul who called Jesus “the Wisdom of God” [1 Cor. 1.24] and continued to be used in the early Church. In fact, the grand cathedral built by emperor Justinian in the 6th century in Constantinople is called the Hagia Sophia, “Holy Wisdom”. The book of Proverbs depicts the Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity, as Wisdom. And that is the section we will examine today as we will see that Jesus is the holy wisdom because He is God.
Solomon begins recording: Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? “The LORD fathered me 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. Holy/ divine Wisdom calls to us for all to hear. And what is it that Wisdom says/ reveals? What is it that we are to hear and believe if we are to be wise? The LORD fathered me [that is, Holy Wisdom] the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. This here is the great mystery of the Trinity—one God yet three Persons: there is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Here the emphasis is on the Father and the Son: The LORD fathered me the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. The holy God has revealed Himself as one God and yet three distinct Persons. The Father is the Father because He does the begetting/ the fathering; the Son is the Son because He is begotten/ fathered. This is the same thing that we hear in psalm, Psalm 2, in which St. David records the conversation between the Father and the Son [Ps 2.7] where the Father says to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity: You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Today—that’s the eternal today! Each day, even before time began, the God the Father says You are My Son, today I have begotten You. In other words, Jesus, the Son, the Second Person of the holy Trinity is the Wisdom of God— O Wisdom of our God Most High—because He is the true God Himself; He is not the Father, He is the Son—eternally begotten of the Father. Holy Wisdom, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity says about the creation: then I was beside him [that is, the Father], like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always. He is the Wisdom of God Most High, but a Person different from the Father: the Father delighted in the Son and the Son rejoicing in the Father.
Jesus is the Holy Wisdom because He is God—the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. One of the characteristics of God is that God is eternal—He has neither beginning nor end. Jesus, the Son, is eternally begotten of the Father: You are My Son, today I have begotten You—in that eternal today. What does Holy Wisdom/ the Son of God say in our text? Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. He was there before time began with the creation. That phrase ages ago is elsewhere translated as “from eternity”. Holy Wisdom, the Son, was already there when God began to create. Our text: When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays to the Father [John 17.5]: And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Before anything, before time—from eternity the holy Triune God was. There never was a time when the Son/ Holy Wisdom did not exist. Already from the unimaginable eternity He was there as the only begotten Son. That means that together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Holy Wisdom/ the Son of God is not created but exists outside of the creation, is its Creator.
And that’s why we address Jesus in this first O Antiphon: O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love. The Son of God is, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Almighty God. He was there at the creation. And as the Creator, He is not only eternal, but He is also omnipotent, all-powerful—the one who can alone create all things. Through St. John, the Holy Spirit tells us about the Son of God/ Holy Wisdom [John 1. 2,3]: He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. The wonderful thing is that as its Creator Jesus is still guiding creation with power and love. Jesus, the Son, the Holy Wisdom is still in control. He is still preserving the creation. The only reason why anything is still here is because He is keeping it all going, including us and guiding creation with power and love.
And the amazing thing is that Holy Wisdom, the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the One who is eternal, the One who created all things is the One who came to this earth, took on human flesh and blood from the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born that first Christmas. Think about this image, think of the boldness of the faith of the OT people: the very God Himself, the almighty and eternal One—Holy Wisdom—they were praying and longing for Him to come. They knew the Savior wouldn’t just be an ordinary person. Yes, they knew that He would be a true man, born of a woman, born as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, etc. but they also knew He would be God Himself; they knew, for example, that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem—that He would be the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting [Mi 5.2].
The almighty, eternal God, the Son, Holy Wisdom came to this earth, truly became one of us—a true human being—and humbled Himself dying on the cross for the sins of the world in order to save/ reconcile to God the whole lost and condemned human race—you and me. Just think of that! The eternal and almighty Creator of everything came to save us from our sin, from death, from the devil, from hell.
The wonderful thing about the O Antiphons/ the hymn “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel” is that it reveals our deepest longing: that God, the Son, Holy Wisdom would come to us. What does that mean? It means we can’t go to Him. He must first come to us! We can’t go to Him first—we don’t know the way. But what does Holy Wisdom do? What is it that we are longing for/ asking Him to do for us again and anew even these waning hours of this Advent season? Come to teach us the path of knowledge. The wonderful thing is that He loves and delights in us—even though we are sinners and deserve nothing but His wrath. In our text, Jesus, Holy Wisdom says that He is delighting in the children of man. What a glorious comfort this is to us sinners. The very fact that Holy Wisdom is delighting in the children of man is pure mercy. We are special objects of His loving care. Was the prayer of the OT saints, Come to teach us the path of knowledge, in vain? Hardly! What did Jesus do? He came to rescue them, to rescue the whole human race from the power of the devil, to free us from sin, and to give us a share in righteousness and life.
Jesus is the Holy Wisdom and He gives us holy wisdom, that is, He gives us the gift of faith to believe and to receive all that He has revealed about Himself and gives us—that He is the almighty, eternal God and that He is also true man, born of the virgin; that He obeyed God’s holy Law for us and so is our Righteousness; that He took all our sins with Him to the cross where He suffered for us so that in Him we are forgiven our sin, at peace and reconciled to God; that since He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, a glorious eternity awaits us—soul and body—in heaven. We do not come to know, believe and receive Jesus and His gifts and blessings by our own wisdom. Instead, the fact that we pray, Come to teach us the path of knowledge, means that He has come to us first and as a gift of His grace given us/ taught us true wisdom; that He has given this gift of faith at our baptism and daily continues to teach us heavenly wisdom through His word. Having been taught and placed on this path of knowledge, we treasure it and don’t want to lose it. That’s why we daily confess our sin; that’s why we are daily fighting against sin and temptation; that’s why we are as often as possible at our Lord’s holy altar as He comes and gives us His body and blood together with all His gifts and blessings. We still need Jesus, that Holy Wisdom, to come to us daily and often and so we pray fervently, but especially in Advent: O Wisdom of our God Most High guiding creation with power and love: Come to teach us the path of knowledge. INJ