A second Sunday of Christmas, which doesn’t happen every year within the 12 days, depending on the day of the week on which Christmas falls, gives the opportunity to hear readings we don’t often hear, and hear again a Gospel reading we just heard on Christmas Day. A reading from Sirach, or Ben Sira in Hebrew, and a sung response from the Wisdom of Solomon, both additional/apocryphal books of the Hebrew scriptures, part of wisdom literature, along with Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Their later authorship may have contributed to their not being included in the canon or collection of Hebrew scriptures. And while they are included in the Bibles of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and other Orthodox traditions, they are not typically included in Lutheran and Anglican Bibles but recognized as “valuable for instruction.”
Their instruction today is about Wisdom, and the pronoun she/her is significant. “Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.” The specific references to the feminine for God’s presence in Wisdom, instructs us in expanded images and pronouns for God. The pronouns she/her for Wisdom in the readings are connected to expanded and more attentive recognition and use of pronouns in our time. We say our pronouns at the beginning of worship and as is becoming more common in other settings, rather than perpetuating assumptions about gender and identity that are a barrier, particularly to Trans, nonbinary and two spirit people. That God’s image includes she/her and all images and identities of all God’s children is good and right for us and all to hear.
And Wisdom is described as “from the mouth of the Most High,” “before the ages, in the beginning (God) created (her), and for all ages (she) shall not cease to be.” She is present in the highest heavens and over all the earth. And at the Creator’s command she dwells with the people of Israel, and the holy tent and Jerusalem were her domain. These images of God’s presence and voice in Wisdom, from the beginning, sound like John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” This Word, some scholars suggest, is connected to and a further expression of Wisdom, present from the beginning, through whom all things came into being, “and the Word became flesh and lived among us… full of grace and truth.” Wisdom and her abiding presence, the Word made flesh in Jesus living among us, all to God’s glory, all grace upon grace.
What a glorious gift! Celebrated every Christmas; including this extraordinary, this isolated, pandemic Christmas. What a glorious gift for this Christmas! God’s Wisdom speaking to us and this world in this pandemic and all it has exposed. God’s Word in the flesh living with us and all humanity, through this virus that is killing and causing the suffering of so many, God in the flesh in and through it all. It’s grace upon grace.
For everyone infected with and affected by this coronavirus, that impacts respiratory and other systems of our bodies, in ways known and still unknown, and loved ones and caregivers and all of us with them, that God joins humanity and this world in the flesh in Jesus is a gift of grace! I do not say this lightly, nor as a simple panacea for all the suffering and fear, all the grief and loss that this virus has and is causing people across the world; and all the suffering and grief in the midst of this pandemic, complicated and amplified by it. To have revealed for us and for this world a God who joins in all the frailties and vulnerabilities of our human flesh in Jesus, born of a human mother, to live among humanity, to suffer and die, to be raised from death to life, is to know a God not isolated from this world, not isolated from this pandemic and all its terrifying impacts upon humanity. In the words of the Gospel, the Word made flesh lives among us, including in this pandemic. No one suffers apart from a God who became flesh.
And this is not an abstract claim. This is observable in the flesh and blood care and compassion given and received between people, in countless acts of love and sacrifice that we have witnessed and participated in, testified to and received, from small individual gestures to the critical work of all the frontline health and long term caregivers for those who are sick and frail, to everyone involved in creating, testing, trialing and now administering vaccines; all of this, individual acts and collective systems of healthcare and compassion reveal and testify to God’s Word of love in the flesh for all to see. What a Christmas gift, God’s Word made flesh. It’s grace upon grace.
And so also the gift of Wisdom; how many are reviewing, writing, talking about, what we have learned from 2020? The lists of collective wisdom (and in some instances not so much) are many and varied, including recognizing again the critical importance of social programs of compassion, dismantling systemic barriers and creating economies of sustainability. As one example, the second in the current “Values for a New World” series of John Albert Hall lectures through the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at UVic is this Thursday, with presenter Miroslav Wolf, titled “At home in the world?”. (The information is in our Crossroads Newsletter available by email and on our website.) No doubt Wolf will try to see and witness to what values we need for a new world that is better than the world of 2020 and before, better, more compassionate, equal, fair for the sake of those more vulnerable and for everyone. Within, and more than human wisdom and insight, the gift of Holy Wisdom’s counsel, like described in the readings, dwelling with us and all God’s children and her influence on “every people and nation” to save and heal and make whole God’s people and all creation, is a great and gracious gift and hope for the world. Oh, that we and all humanity hear and follow Holy Wisdom’s word and her wise counsel that is grace upon grace for the good of all and all the earth.
Holy Wisdom, Holy Word made flesh, what a gift for this Christmas. It’s all glorious, abundant, grace upon grace!
And interrupting these glorious images of Wisdom and the Word made flesh, we have a witness who testifies to it all. Advent’s witness preparing the way for the one who is to come, John continues, testifying to the Word made flesh, and the revelation and life that enlightens everyone. Observant was a word I used on Christmas day. Both the act of watching for and the commitment of keeping to a practise together. To be observant, is the practise of a witness like John, sensing and testifying to what God is making known.
You are, we are, as children of God all, witnesses, observants like John, of God’s Holy wisdom, God’s Holy Word made flesh and revealed for all to see. That we are attentive, watching, listening, sensing the gift of God’s Wisdom and her good and saving counsel for us and all the world, and to God’s Word made flesh, including in our own bodies, and the bodies of others, frail and strong, differently able, of every size and age and skin colour and gender and identity, all revealing the glory of God and God’s loving Word made flesh in Jesus and the glorious, abundant, pandemic Christmas gift of grace this is for all. The writer to the Ephesians can’t stop praising God for this abundance, “the riches of God’s grace that God lavishes on us. With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of God’s will according to God’s good pleasure, that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth.” And we join this endless praise of God. In this pandemic and every time. For the glorious, lavish gifts of God’s Holy Wisdom, God’s Holy Word made flesh, for the redemption of all and all creation. In this worship in word and sacrament and song, and in every time. And that by God’s Holy Spirit we are witnesses to this, God’s grace and upon grace, for all to know and love. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.