2nd Sunday in Christmas
Sirach 24:1-12; Wisdom 10:15-21; Ephesians 1:2-14; John 1:1-18
Today we had readings from the books of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. Most of you probably don’t have those books in your Bible. (Yes/no?) These two books, along with Judith, Tobit, I and II Macabees, Baruch, and Esther, make up the seven extra books that appear in the bibles of the Roman Catholic Church, but not usually in Protestant bibles.
If they appear in your Bible, and you don’t have a “Catholic” bible, they will appear in a section called the “Apocrypha”.
These seven books were written in a four-hundred year space that is otherwise unaccounted for through the history of the Hebrew Scriptures and the start of the New Testament books. They were originally written in Greek and not in Hebrew. At least one council of Jewish leaders rejected these books for the canon , or collection, of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Some later Christian Councils debated keeping them in the canon- with some saying yes and some, no. For our purposes, Luther rejected them as since they were not written in Hebrew, noting they were useful reading, but weren’t at the same level as sacred scripture. When Luther set them aside in this manner, it raised a debate forever as to whether these texts should or should not be included in Bibles- collections of sacred texts.
Furthermore, there is much heat as to whether these books can be considered “inspired” if they are not part of the sacred canon. Can God inspire words and work that are not part of the printed and bounded bible? (I should say so, otherwise Martin Luther’s whole career is somewhat questionable.)
By reading from these texts, just like singing hymns or offering prayers written by ourselves or spoken extemporaneously, we are acknowledging God’s ongoing work in the world. We are saying that God is not done, that God is still speaking, that God’s work continues. When we look to poetry or painting, wood carving or theater, quilting or knitting, we see that God’s majesty and might did not have an expiration date. God’s revelatory power was not limited to one place, one language, or one group of people.
We are still in the Christmas season, wherein the heart of the message is God’s self-revelation through flesh and blood, Jesus as Emmanuel- God with us. As a baby- a real, live, crying, eliminating, eating, baby- Jesus shows us God’s tendency to be revealed in the usual, the simple, the regular, the ordinary, the normal and thereby transform these things into new realities.
The upshot of today’s sermon is not that we should include the seven deutero-canonical books in Protestant bibles. It is that the arguments that “because they are not in there, they do not count as ‘inspired’” are ridiculous. If we are to learn anything in this season of shepherds, young unmarried mothers, confused, but earnest fathers, magi, angels, and innkeepers, it has to be that there is not a limit to God’s ability to inspire, to use, to shape, and to create. The human failure to understand this is not a failure of orthodoxy, it is a failure of faithful imagination- rooted in the truth of grace and forgiveness.
We live in a world that shames people who struggle with their identities, with self-understanding, with rejection, and with trusting in the reality of God’s expansiveness. Understanding God’s inspiration to be broader that we’ve ever imagined, broader than the Church has allowed, broader than we dare to hope- is the gift of Christmas that is for all people. It is the Christmas message that we are to carry.
Both of today’s readings were about wisdom- as a part of God and as a gift of God. In more than one place in the Bible, including in Proverbs and Job, it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” What does the fear of the Lord look like? I believe it begins with an unwillingness to limit God, a refusal to box God in or nail him down.
Thus we turn, like John the baptizer or the writer of Ephesians, and proclaim the lavishness of grace, the incredibility of the Word made flesh, and the glory of God we understand to have been revealed through Jesus. And then we swallow deeply- in grief or joy or worry or hope- and say, “And God is not done yet.”