Those of you who are paying attention to this morning’s readings, and who’ve opened your bibles lately, may be wondering, “where did these readings come from?” Our first lesson comes from a book titled Sirach. Our psalmody came from a book called Wisdom of Solomon. Ephesians and John are more familiar to you, I hope.
If you have a copy of the Lutheran Study Bible at home, or any other standard Protestant bible, these books are either missing, or found in a section titled the “apocrypha,” from the Greek word for “hidden.” This might imply that there is something to hide in these books, which is unfortunate since they contain some truly beautiful poetry and unique imagery.
These books, which were composed before the four gospels and the life of Jesus of Nazareth, are considered canonical scripture by the Roman Catholic church, and the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches – but not by Protestants. When Luther translated the bible into German almost five hundred years ago, he was the first to move these books out of the Old Testament and into a section which he titled “Apocrypha,” along with the subscript, “these books are not held equal to the scriptures, but are useful and good to read.” From this, we can infer that Luther was not as good a professor as we’ve been led to believe, because everyone knows that 90% of students only read what’s on the “required” section of the syllabus, and hardly anyone reads what’s on the “recommended” list.
Nevertheless, these readings from the apocrypha ended up in the lectionary as assigned for the second Sunday after Christmas. This, again, tells you something about their status in the church – since we only get a second Sunday after Christmas a little over half of the time, and in most churches that Second Sunday after Christmas is used to celebrate Epiphany. But, the more interesting point, at least to me, is that a set of readings which are not considered canonical scripture, still end up in our lectionary – meaning that the church recognizes that there is much Wisdom to be found not only in scripture, but outside it as well.
That’s not particularly revolutionary, since most preachers take as their primary texts newspaper clippings, bits of novels and plots to movies – and I intend to do the same, I just wanted to give you a little bit of background information on these potentially strange and unfamiliar book titles in your bulletins.
I have used the interval between our Christmas gatherings and this morning to travel to Iowa with Kerry for Christmas with my family. One of our traditions is a family movie, and this year we chose to go and see the newest installment of the Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As a film, this movie is getting middling reviews, and I understand why – the plot is a little jumpy, the characterizations are a bit thin, and the acting isn’t as fluid as the watery special effects. Still, if you read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles as a child, as I did – or again as an adult, as I have – then you will very likely import into this movie your memory of this story and your love for its characters – especially the beastly Eustace, the noble Reepicheep, and the Christly Aslan.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and its film adaptation, seem to me to be structured loosely around the seven deadly sins. The protagonists, and those they are pursuing, have been tested against their deepest insecurities – Lucy covets her sister’s beauty, Edmond’s pride is measured against his elder brother’s stature, and so on. In the end they must travel to the Dark Island, the source of the evils that have plagued them, to rescue one last lord of Narnia and free those who have been held captive in darkness.
It was hard, having just come through Christmas services, not to see the Christian allegory in this quest, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
But it was at the end that I remembered how much I loved these books, and what they meant to me. Having come to the end of their adventure, the lion Aslan – who represents Christ in C.S. Lewis’ novels, arrives to send the characters back to their own world. It is the last time that Lucy and Edmond will visit Narnia, and so their goodbye is a difficult one. As they prepare to leave, Lucy predicts, “we won’t be coming back, will we?”
In response Aslan answers her, “in your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
And again, how could I help but hear, “but to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
Leaping from one movie to another, though this next
one still featured a good number of British actors and a storyline about a younger brother stepping into his own identity as a king, I was so pleased to see over this past week The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush playing Albert (“Bertie”), Duke of York, and his speech therapist Lionel Logue.
Once again the forces of darkness threaten to overcome civilization, though this time they have come to very real, historic expression in Nazi Germany’s wars of aggression across Europe. The second son of King George V, Bertie is a man of solid character and guts, but who suffers from a speech impediment that we come to understand is the product of a childhood filled with bullying and abuse by his father, his nanny and his brothers.
Called upon to take the throne when his dilettante younger brother David lays down the crown in order to chase after a divorcee from Baltimore, Bertie is brought face to face with his own deepest insecurities. As a king living in the new age of radio, he is called upon to speak to the nation in a voice that communicates confidence and inspires trust.
In a pivotal scene, just before Bertie is to assume the name King George VI, his speech therapist, Lionel, provokingly takes his seat in Canterbury Cathedral during a rehearsal for the coronation. Insulted, Bertie demands that Lionel vacate the chair.
“Listen to me!” Bertie commands.
“Why should I waste my time listening to you?” Lionel asks.
“Because I have a voice!” King George VI replies.
“Yes, you do.”
Sirach says, “Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people. In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory.” In the Hebrew tradition Wisdom is often personified as a female voice and imagined as having been present with God at the creation of the world, and the hymns that sing Wisdom’s praise are so similar to the one that we hear in the first chapter of John’s gospel that the figures of Lady Wisdom and the Cosmic Christ are sometimes interpreted as being aspects of the same second person of the Trinity.
“In the presence of the Most High she opens her mouth,” says Sirach, and then we replied with our song from the Wisdom of Solomon, “for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.”
And then we hear that this Wisdom has been a living part of creation from the beginning, eternally begotten of the Creator, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Creator, through whom all things were made… including you and me.
And, what’s more, we learn that in being born, in taking on flesh, God has come in the person of Jesus Christ not simply to be an elder brother to us all, assuming all the difficult duties and making all the sacrifices, but indeed so that all we who believe in his name might become like him, children of God, adopted into a family and heirs to a throne.
This second Sunday of Christmas we learn from hidden texts and recommended readings (and films) that Wisdom has come to dwell not only among us, but in us. Jesus Christ has come to us in an ancient story so that when we return to our everyday lives we may come to know him in a different way, by a different name – King George VI, or perhaps one of our own newborns, Emmett Byrley or Rebecca Abbo. Wisdom has taken on flesh in you and I, and we are given a voice so that we might tell the truth and declare the good news that God’s divinity is in each of us, for all of us.
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. [She] was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know [her]. He came to what was [her] own, and his own people did not accept [her]. But to all who received him, who believed in [her] name, he gave the power to become children of God…”
Christ, the Wisdom of God, is born again in you today. Let every voice declare the good news of God for all the world!