"Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing
of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and
perfect will of God."
We celebrate now the Epiphany of our Lord: his manifestation, his showing
forth, or shining forth; the appearing of the new Sun of Righteousness,
the light which shines in the darkness, the light which all this world's
darkness can never overcome. "For God, who commanded the light to shine
out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4.6) That
is the theme of the Epiphany: the shining forth of the glory of God in
the face of Jesus Christ, who is "the power of God and the wisdom of God."
(1 Corinthians 1.24).
Many events in the Gospels are particularly associated with the Epiphany.
First, of course, there is the coming of the star-led Magi, the wise men
from the East, who bring their gifts of gold, and incense, and myrrh "sacred
gifts of mystic meaning" acknowledging the infant as King, as God, and
as sacrifice. Then there is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, with
the visible descent of the Spirit, and the declaration of his divine sonship.
And on the Sundays after Epiphany the Gospel lessons are chiefly concerned
with the miracles of Jesus, in which his divine power is manifest.
But on this first Sunday after Epiphany, we have the story of Jesus'
visit to the Temple at Jerusalem, at the age of twelve, and his conversation
with the doctors, "both hearing them, and asking them questions." It's
the only story the Gospels give us of the childhood of Jesus, and it is
an interesting and remarkable story in many ways. But the chief point of
it as the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, is the showing forth of divine
wisdom. "He is the power of God and the wisdom of God", and his divine
power will be shown in his miracles. But first, he is the wisdom of God,
and that is what we are invited to consider today: Christ as the Epiphany
of the wisdom of God.
In the Scriptures, and especially in the Epistles of St. Paul, the wisdom
of God is often contrasted with the wisdom of this world, or the wisdom
of this present age: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are
perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it
is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of
the clever I will thwart. 'Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where
is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the
world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through
wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those
who believe. For Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach
Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but
to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God
and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, the
weakness of God is stronger than men." So says St. Paul to the Corinthians.
(1 Corinthians 1.19-25)
His point is that the enfleshment of God in Christ, his suffering and
dying for our salvation, is a fact which stands in contradiction to all
worldly wisdom, to all worldly calculation and expectation, in contradiction
to all the schemes our cleverness might devise. The wisdom of God, in Christ,
breaks in upon us as a contradiction, and gives us a new knowledge; a new
starting-point or perspective. And our life as Christians is radically
dependent upon that knowledge, that revelation of divine wisdom. "Be not
conformed to this world (to the wisdom of this present age), but be ye
transformed by the renewing of your mind."
The temptations to conformity are ever with us. The spirit of the age
presses in upon us; the claims of expediency, of common-sense, of majority
opinion (or majority sentiment) seem often very strong indeed; and we as
individuals, and we as a Christian community, often find ourselves puzzled
and confused as to just what is "that good and acceptable, and perfect
will of God." All too often, we are quite mindlessly carried along by the
spirit of the age, blown hither and yon by winds of alien teaching.
But the wisdom of God, the mystery hidden from the foundation of the
world, is now manifest in Christ, "For he has made known to us in all wisdom
and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he
set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things
in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1.9-10) And that
wisdom is ours, to believe, and to understand, and to make our own, by
the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is God's will.
In the series of Gospel lessons for the Epiphany Sundays, first comes
the Epiphany of divine wisdom, then the Epiphany of divine power in the
miracles. And that order is vitally important, for, as today's collect
puts it, first we must perceive and know what things we ought to do, and
then we must have grace and power to do them. The development of perception
and knowledge necessarily comes first, for power without wisdom, activity
without perception and knowledge, is vain. The tendency of our age, the
wisdom of this world, and the temptation of the Church, is towards such
mindless and vain activity, towards expediency, towards faddish and fashionable
innovation. "Be not conformed."
The Incarnate Lord the enfleshed word of God shines forth as a light
in the darkness; and despite all our perplexities and confusions and perversities,
the darkness can never overcome that light. Let us then look to that light
which is "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4.6) May our minds be renewed in that vision.
"Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord." Amen. +
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