One historical note, it appears that these eight days were actually the beginning of what we know as Advent. A Council at Saragossa in 380 decreed that Christians should go to church daily from December 17 until the Epiphany, specially asking them “not to stay at home or run off to the country or the mountains.” This made 21 days, 3x7, both numbers being significant for early Christians. Advent lengthened over time, as long as to the Sunday after St. Martin’s Day (Nov. 11) to make it as long as Lent, but then settled into the four weeks we now know.
The antiphon today in the paraphrase from the Hymnal 1982:
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily,
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
In a more literal translation:
O Wisdom, O holy word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come and show your people the way to salvation (or “the way of prudence”).
Lady Wisdom is one of the great figures in late Old Testament writing, a female metaphor for God’s activity in the world, from creation to the Exodus to the governance of Israel. Much of the language about Wisdom gets carried over into the New Testament in language about the Word, particularly in John’s Gospel, but also in Mark.
Like many Old Testament words, wisdom (in Hebrew hokma, in Greek sophia, in Latin sapientia) has a much broader meaning than the English word implies. Wisdom is more than simple knowledge, it is the fullness of relationship with God. To be wise is to be in sync—body, mind and spirit—with the designs of God, including being in balance, possessing equilibrium, and experiencing beauty.
It is also to live in freedom, as God lives in freedom, in a balanced, ordered, relational freedom. That’s a good place for which to strive in these last days before Christmas, when the temptation to anxiety and frenzy is high. Take a deep breath, think and feel wisdom as a gift from God.
O come, thou Wisdom from on high!