Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith– to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

That’s the collect for Advent 4 from the Book of Common Prayer, and Romans 16:25-27, the epistle.

I vastly prefer the KJV rendering of the phrase….to God only wise.

I recently was writing to a friend on the occasion of her ordination to the priesthood, and what I believe is ahead of her. I invoked this passage as a way of trying to convey my hope for her, and a church that we both love.

She inherits an ancient and weighty honor at a time when the Anglican Communion has become utterly riven. Nearly armed camps have staked out positions and fought for the soul of the church.

I won’t disguise that in one of those camps, I am recognized as a child of God and offered the Good News of Christ’s redemptive love, or say that they are equally guilty in the split. Far more than being conservative, the rebels are endorsing a vision of a church nearly unrecognizable to history. As my friend so eloquently describes, the Episcopal Church is just that, one of Bishops. It is not necessarily high church or low, liberal or conservative, but one of the unbroken line of succession going back to Peter himself. These are not simple changes, but ones of unmistakable weight. And in this fight there is hatred, racism, imperialism, cynicism, and downright sin of all measures.

Where is the wisdom? Where can we see beyond such fractiousness and reach grace?

To think of God only wise, we often imagine a bearded white man, atop a throne. This is a figure who knows the future, whose power and control over history are unquestionable. The proper response is one of confidence, that the wise God will resolve everything, righting wrongs and setting things in their places. So perhaps we see our faction win, hope for a restoration of the church that is comfortable to us. But Paul closely follows this grand address with the words, “through Messiah Jesus.” The one who is crowned on deathrow, and raised up on a tree of death. The one that was “exposed to material conditions so so malignant that he was executed.”

The only wise God of Paul is one who is foolish to the ways of humanity, scornful of victory, triumphant in defeat. I don’t know how to hope like that. I can’t imagine a church that is upheld if “my” side loses. The opponents we have faced have not just decried our participation in the church, but vilified and hounded us in ways that truly frightens me. I know that my life is largely one of privilege, but for many of my sisters and brothers, this hateful rhetoric is just one more thing contributing to their peril and suffering. It separates them from their communities, families, and the God who endlessly pursues them in boundless love. I am so hard pressed to find hope in such a situation, it seems far too tragic and senselessly wasteful to be redeemed.

So, I do not yet know what it means to see the wisdom of God. I can only sit in prayer this advent, and wait. There are long nights this time of year, and you begin to wonder if you should ever see a dawn again. Rising in the darkness, and ending your toil long after the sun has gone down… I am not ready to sing glad carols and tidings, I am more like Elizabeth and Zechariah, who at the opening of Luke despair of bareness in their old age. Advent is a season of vigil for a Messiah who has not yet come…who cannot simply be summoned by rote prayer or piousness, but is a figment of contested imagination. Do we seek a king, a warrior, a priest? We, once again, do not know where to place our hope. We would do well to wait in the silence this season.

For I am beginning to suspect that it has very little to do with knowing the future. Or seeing a way out. Much more than that, it is a willingness to simply be, to witness, to proclaim grace when we feel it kick within our wombs, to be incarnate. Even unto death.

We seek a wisdom that was heartbroken long before the divisions of the church began to surface, that will remain hopeful far longer than they shall exist. That is with us. With us in the beginning. With us now. With us, world with out end.

To God only wise, through Jesus Christ, be all glory forever!

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