Today is the second Sunday after Christmas and it is a somewhat irregular Sunday, for it only happens when Christmas falls on certain days of the week. It is also a Sunday which seems – liturgically – not to be able to make up its mind. Instead of just one, there are three different Gospel readings assigned for the second Sunday after Christmas, so it’s up to the preacher, not the Sunday, to decide which Gospel to use. The choices for today are these: the flight into Egypt from St. Matthew, the visit of the wise men, also from Matthew; or Jesus in the temple with the teachers, answering and asking questions, from St. Luke. I chose Luke, but I could have chosen Matthew and the wise men, because what I want us to think about this morning is wisdom.
And, you see, in both the Matthew and Luke lections Jesus is pictured as Wisdom in person, Wisdom personified. Wise men, Magi, who search the sky and the stars for Wisdom, journey from the East to Bethlehem to find a greater wisdom. And they do find it in the child Jesus who is Wisdom and Truth and also a king. Wisdom Himself sought by wise men.
Luke records another journey. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. As they leave the city, Jesus is left behind. His parents return and they find him – in the Temple with the teachers and scholars. Wisdom Himself among the wise men.
And so wisdom is a motif in two of today’s Gospels. But what is this wisdom, and how and why should wisdom be Jesus?
Certainly wisdom is something deeper than mere knowledge. The knowledge of facts and figures about the world and human endeavor is necessary. We can’t get on without it. But a tally of facts and figures, no matter how long or how varied, is useless unless we understand what those facts and figures mean. Useless, unless we understand how those facts and figures and data are connected and interconnected, how they picture the present, how they explain the past, how they predict the future.
Understanding. Most human intellectual endeavor is about understanding. But wisdom is something even deeper than understanding. Wisdom is something beyond mere knowledge and the most accomplished understanding. There are – aren’t there – a great many people with multiple degrees who are not as wise as my cats. And there are many wise men and wise women who may not be able to read or write.
But what is wisdom? What is it like? Let me give you a few mundane examples which, I think, point to something profound. Perhaps, indeed, wisdom is mundane, that is to say, of the world. And perhaps Wisdom should be mundane, though deeply spiritual. Perhaps indeed, as far as true Wisdom is concerned, the mundane and the spiritual cannot be separated.
My first example may seem somewhat silly – learning to play a sport. To do so, you’ve got to learn the rules. You’ve got to learn the moves. You’ve got to leave to and cooperate with other people. It takes a lot of tumbles and skinned knees and an often bruised ego, but then there is that moment when you “get it,” it happens, it becomes natural. The moment when you can play and can become part of a team, because what you are doing is unselfconscious and natural.
Another example: learning to play a musical instrument. Learning to read music, learning the moves. Then hours of practice, exercises, and instruction, and then there is that moment when you “get it,” it “becomes natural,” you only have to look at the music and you can play it. And if you stay with it, you never lose it; it only gets better. It’s no longer something external, but internal and automatic and unselfconscious.
Or lastly, learning a language. Sometimes that means mastering a new alphabet or way of writing, which can be rather challenging. And then, again, hours of memorization, of exercises, of reading and listening and trying to speak. Sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting it wrong, and then there is that moment when you do “get it,” it becomes “second nature,” automatic, you don’t have to think. Like music, it is no longer external, but internal – part of oneself.
Wisdom is rather like that. It can include knowledge an understanding, but it is beyond knowledge and understanding, and is something deeper, and at the same time simpler, and yet more complicated. “Second nature” is an apt phrase to describe wisdom, and it accords well with the most ancient and primitive Hebrew word for wisdom which means the “mastery of a skill.” Not just a skill, but the mastery of a skill – a skill that has become – again – “second nature.”
And when Hebrew thought had developed over the years, wisdom came to mean that kind of mastery extended to the whole of life. Wisdom is mastery of the skill of life. That’s what the Hebrews thought, and few serious thinkers would disagree. Wisdom is mastery of the skill of life.
Christianity goes a bit further, and that is what we celebrate today. It suggests that wisdom in order to be wisdom must be incarnate. It must be internal, incarnate in you and me, if we are to be wise. Wisdom is more than the mastery of a skill, even the skill of life; wisdom is the living of that life. Wisdom cannot be external to a life, for then it would be a law, and a law, no matter how wise and good and true, is not wisdom.
Wisdom must be internal, part of one’s self. Moreover, laws are to be followed and obeyed, wisdom is to be lived. Wisdom is a life lived as it was created by God to be.
And that is the Wisdom who was born in Bethlehem. He is a Wisdom come to heal our brokenness and undo our bondage to the power of sin. Sin forces us to live lives that are not as they were created to be. Sin tears us apart from God and from one another, though we were made to be with God and with one another.
And so, Jesus is born as Wisdom Incarnate, truly God and truly man to restore the truth of our lives which had been destroyed by sin.
He is born truly God and truly man and to join us to Himself and to God.
Jesus is born as Wisdom and Truth incarnate to become incarnate in our lives and thereby to create in us a “second nature.”
To give us, through Him, skill in the living of life.
To give us, through Him, mastery over our lives.
True man and true God, Emmanuel – God-with-us – a Savior who is Christ the Lord!