O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.
Each year it seems that Advent comes upon us more quickly than the previous one, and the O Antiphons — these last seven days of the Advent season marked by the seven antiphons prayed before the Magnificat in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours at evening prayer (vespers) — seem to arrive like a thief in the night. These short snippets of prayerful anticipation and prophecy continue to be something I look forward to every winter as we call to mind, live out and anticipate the coming of the Lord. On the occasion of this first O Antiphon I am thinking of two seemingly different things: The insight of St. Paul and the Occupy Wall Street movements.
Wisdom is used in Scripture as another name for God. It is a symbol of Divine immanence, of God’s closeness to creation and all of humanity. It seems fitting then that wisdom is the beginning focus of these last days of our prayerful longing. In St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, we read of how Paul recognizes that what has happened in the coming of God as one like us through the Incarnation (what we celebrate at Christmas), everything we have previously understood is turned upside down. And that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the Cross is even more absurd, Paul notes.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).
God’s power is found not in the “sensible” or “logical” view of the world, of institutions or of self-interest. Instead, God enters into creation as one like us to reveal that with God “nothing is impossible” — that God is in fact the God of all possibilities, even the seemingly foolish and absurd.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world id not know God through wisdom, GOd decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Cor 1:20-25).
Today’s antiphon announces the truth of Paul’s proclamation, addressing God’s Wisdom, which is Christ, with the recognition that it is indeed Christ who guides all of creation with strength…God’s strength, not human strength.
God’s strength is tender, God’s embrace is loving and God’s power is in fact weakness, at least as far as we can tell. God’s strength is found in the proclamation of Christ crucified, and that my friends is not the strength of the United States Department of Defense (or any other military force for that matter).
The mention of military force is but one example. That the O Antiphons, so close to the celebration of the Incarnation, begin with God’s Wisdom is no accident. It is a reminder that we need to learn to see the world in a new way, in God’s way. It is a reminder that from the moment God entered this world as one like us, the game changed and we could no longer live the way we had before. It is a reminder that so much around us, much of which we implicitly if not explicitly permit, does not make sense according to God’s Wisdom, even though it seems to make “perfect sense” by the standards of our society, culture or even church.
This is why I’m thinking about the Occupy Wall Street movements that have sprung up this fall after that first group gathered in Manhattan back on September 17, 2011. The protest of these largely unorganized and random folks was immediately criticized by the rich and powerful of our society for being foolish, aimless and without direction. According to an MSNBC report, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg decried the activity as “not productive.” Yet, by whose measure was productivity being assessed?
We have become so product-driven and results-focused today in our society that we forget that some things cannot be measured by our own standards of sense and logic. This is in part what I believe Paul is getting at when he reminds the early Christians in Corinth to stop being so focused on the “logic” and “sensibility” to which they had become accustomed as the normative way of seeing the world.
“Things have changed,” Paul is effectively shouting through his letter! And yet neither the Corinthians nor we today have done anything about it.
We continue to live our lives as if Christ had not lived, died and is risen; we continue to judge our actions and those of others’ by standards not of God but of the world; we continue to think of ourselves before we think of others. Perhaps worst of all we are following our own way and not seeking the way to salvation as today’s antiphon reminds us in prayer.
Those people who looked around and saw the injustice of the financial system, the greed-laden structures of capitalism and the inhumane treatment of families did not ascribe to the “logic of the world,” but sought instead to follow a new way, seek a new wisdom.
I’m not going to suggest that the Occupy Wall Street demonstration and its offspring are inherently Christian endeavors, but I do think there is an allegory and a model in the action of those who are written off as foolish and absurd when fighting for the rights of others and justice in our world.
Today’s antiphon calls our attention to the wisdom of God which is more foolish than we can possibly imagine, but not so impossible that we cannot see the in-breaking glimpses of it in the preaching and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Love for the unlovable,
forgiveness for the unforgivable,
healing for the broken and broken hearted,
life for those who have died.
These things are foolish and impossible according to the logic and wisdom of the world. However, as we are challenged today, we are not to follow the worldly directives but allow God’s wisdom to “Come and show your people the way to salvation.”
That way to salvation is made step-by-step along the pilgrimage of life in the footprints of Jesus Christ.
It is a foolish journey, but one God has destined us to take if we are willing to accept. Perhaps the first step on the path is the occupy God’s foolishness in our own lives by learning to see the world anew and doing something to help change injustice and violence into righteousness and peace.