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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Spirit of Wisdom

Christmas 2, Yr. A
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-521/2/11
Baptism of Joanna Mary Bradforth

I love today’s gospel! As the mother of a teen and a 12 year old, and still having some memory of being a teen myself, I find it to be a story to which I can totally relate. The Bible is filled with tales of people who are very, very good and those who are horrid, but this one is simply about Jesus and his parents being absolutely normal. The verging-on-adolescent Jesus impulsively decides to stay in Jerusalem to hang out at the temple, ignoring the fact his parents are leaving town, not bothering—in those pre-cellphone days—to let them know where he is, and utterly oblivious to the anguish and inconvenience he’s caused them. You can practically hear his dismissive, irritated tone of voice when they finally track him down and he says, “Well, duh…didn’t you know I’d be here?” One can imagine the conversation with Joseph that ensued on the trip home: “You may be the Son of God, but as long as you’re living in my house, you’ll follow my rules!”

The fact is, Jesus may have been wise, but he wasn’t all that smart when it came to dealing with his parents, not at this age, the one growing-up story we have about him, and it’s worth noting the difference. Smart is knowing how to get what you want or how to solve a problem. Smart is having lots of facts in your head. Smart is recognizing relationships. But wisdom is something else, something bigger and deeper. Wisdom is knowing what’s worth getting, or comprehending what lies behind a problem. Wisdom is understanding why the facts are important or not. Wisdom is perceiving the value in relationships. C3PO is smart; Yoda is wise. Smart can be used for good or evil; wisdom can only be put to good. Most of all, Star Wars aside, smart is a human trait, but true wisdom is a gift from God.

We can hope and presume that Jesus got smarter as he grew; we know from this reading that he increased in wisdom as the years went by. More and more, his life reflected an awareness and understanding of, and responsiveness to, the Spirit of God, which is, in one line of interpretation, the definition of wisdom. We’re called by God into a covenant, and wisdom is the gift of faithfully living out that relationship. In Jesus, Wisdom—understood in personal terms in some of the Hebrew scriptures—appears, fully and perfectly. What that means for us is that when we’re following Jesus, we’re living in wisdom, living with “the eyes of our heart enlightened” as the letter to the Ephesians puts it, embracing the whole of the good God intends for us. That’s one heck of a lot more than being smart!

Emma and Gwen, I have a special charge for you today, something for you to do. It applies to your parents and Joanna’s godparents and everyone here, but most of all to you. Joanna is going to grow up watching you, learning from you, wanting to be like you, because you’re her big sisters. I know this, because I have two older sisters. Teach her well. By all means, show her what it means to be smart, to know how the world around her works, and how to make friends, and how to do things from kicking a soccer ball to baking cookies to picking a good book. But even more importantly, guide her in growing in wisdom. Help her understand what really matters in life, and what it means to be and act like a beloved child of God. You don’t have to understand this completely yourself, nor do you have to be perfect at doing it; just keep her company as you all grow into being the people God has created you to be, and encourage her to keep learning, and help her find her way again when she’s confused. That’s a big job, an important one…just do your best, and that’ll be plenty good enough.

The second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, ends with a prayer that sums up God’s desire for Joanna and for all of us, on this occasion of her baptism and as a new year begins: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” And all God’s people say, “Amen!”

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