The Greatest Wisdom: Antiphon for December 17

by Herb Mueller

O Wisdom, Proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. – Antiphon for December 17

This is the first of seven “O Antiphons,” short prayers traditionally sung during the seven days preceding Christmas Eve. They give expression to the Church’s desire for Christ to come and fulfill God’s promises.

No one knows exactly who wrote them, but the O Antiphons were already being used in Rome by the 700s. By the 1100s, an unknown author collected them in Latin verse, the basis of our hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (LSB 357).

“O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High” reminds us that true wisdom comes from God, for we “live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). By this wisdom, God creates order and leads His people in righteousness and holiness. Therefore “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10).

 “Come and teach us the way of prudence” expresses the deepest desire and prayer of the Church for the Lord to come among His people to “visit and redeem” them (Luke 1:68).

We now confess our Lord, Christ Himself, as the Word of God, even the Wisdom of God, put into human flesh, to dwell with us and to reveal God to us. He is the “horn of salvation” raised up for us “that we should be saved from our enemies” (Luke 1:70–71).

Indeed, the greatest wisdom of God is shown in the cross of Christ, where “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). Here is where God answers our deepest need and shows “the mercy promised to our fathers” (Luke 1:72).

In C.S. Lewis’ fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch demands the right to execute the traitor Edmund, citing some deep magic from the Dawn of Time.

Aslan, the Christ-figure in the series, offers Himself in Edmund’s place. The White Witch accepts, thinking she will thereby defeat her greatest enemy. She mocks Aslan and kills Him on the great stone table.

But Aslan reappears alive, thanks to an even deeper wisdom from before the Dawn of Time. He explains that, “when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

This story reflects in some measure the deepest wisdom of all, that, as the Bible says, God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) because Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).

As Peter says in Acts, Christ “was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). S Christ crucified and raised from the dead, though He is “a stumbling bock to Jews and folly to Gentiles” is for “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23–24).

But why? Why this? Why the cross? Could not God have found another way? Or, could not God have simply destroyed sin and started over? Yes, but if He had, you and I would not be here! The great wonder is that God loved you and me in Christ, even before the beginning.

If God had determined just to “wipe out all the evil,” He would have to wipe out me, and you, as well. For the problem of evil is not just “out there” but it’s in me and in you.

Instead, because God loved you, He determined to save us by the wisdom of the cross. There, in our place, Christ, God’s Wisdom in our flesh, became the willing victim killed in the traitors’ stead. In the cross of Christ, God condemns our sin and kills our death, opening for us the door to life.

What is more, God’s Wisdom in the flesh, our Lord Jesus, could not stay dead, but rose from the dead to raise us to life with Him. It’s not our wisdom, but “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27–28).

That’s why, as we look beyond Christmas and wait for our Lord’s coming again to raise us to life, body and soul, the Church prays, “O Wisdom . . . Come!”

The Rev. Herb Mueller is LCMS first vice-president.

**This article was originally published in the December 2013 The Lutheran Witness

1 thought on “The Greatest Wisdom: Antiphon for December 17”

  1. Thank you for this excellent, biblically based article. It was rich with scripture references ,interesting, and inspiring .

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