Saturday, December 17, 2011

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high.

An antiphon is a short sentence sung or chanted before the psalm or canticle in certain liturgical traditions. The seven "O Antiphons" date back to the ancient Church and are used to celebrate the final seven days of Advent, the last week before Christmas. Each O Antiphon is a name of Christ or one of his attributes described in Scripture. You probably recognize them as from the verses of the popular Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

"The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." --Isaiah 11:2-3

"[...] he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom." --Isaiah 28:29

This prophecy is also relevant in that it describes the Messiah as "coming forth from the mouth of the Most High," which is very significant in light of the Christian doctrine, rooted in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, according to which Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the Incarnate Word of God the Father. (Wikipedia)


I have made something of a career out of being smart. I was a straight-A student even through college (two B's in my entire college career, both in German), and my job requires me to have a breadth of knowledge and skills.

My dad always liked to remind me, though, that intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom. And while they're not mutually exclusive, having one doesn't guarantee having the other, either, as anyone with an intelligent teenager can tell you.

I don't know if I can speak to wisdom. It's something you're supposed to acquire as you age, yet that also comes "out of the mouths of babes." Being neither old nor a child at this point in my life, perhaps I'm disqualified to speak on the topic.

But here's what I've got. The wisdom of Christmas is knowing your limits.

A wise approach to the Advent season is not (necessarily) stepping back, slowing down, doing less. But it's also not (necessarily) jumping in feet first, gung-ho, stressing over a huge production.

It's knowing which moments call for jumping up and down, baking piles of cookies, laughing and shouting and feeling that exuberant Christmas joy.

And it's knowing which moments call you to sit and, like Mary, ponder, to not stress over your unfinished to-do list, to savor the solemnity of this season of waiting.

I like this definition of the word prudence, which shows up in today's antiphon:
Provident care in the management of resources; economy; frugality.
Come and teach us the way of prudence. Teach us to manage our resources--our time, our talents, our treasure, all that we have--carefully, with provision for the future.

It's a good lesson for Christmas time: in this week leading up to The Big Day, let us manage our resources remembering that December 25 is only the first day of Christmas. Let us manage our time, money, and emotional and physical energy so that we will have sufficient supplies of them even after Christmas. Let us manage our resources so we can continue to live intentionally and with that Christmas spirit for all twelve days of Christmas and into the new year.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

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