The Advent Wisdom Project


[1] It’s November, Target has been full of Christmas décor since September, and the malls have been playing holiday music for a month. Thus we are typically singing the anthems of the Advent and Christmas seasons well before it is liturgically appropriate. Of all the hymns I am happy to sing outside of Advent, to sing in fact any time, anywhere, “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” tops the list. It’s a sturdy plainsong chant that transcends the seasons and rests regularly in my heart and on my lips. For one season in our family life, we actually sang it as a bedtime hymn for an entire year. I seriously never tire of it.


O Wisdom[2] This hymn is actually a musical setting for the ancient O Antiphons. It has been traditional in the life of the church to sing one O Antiphon each day the week prior to Christmas, December 17-23. Given that the various titles of the antiphons are each a name of the Messiah, the coming one, and all have their origin in that great Advent prophet, Isaiah, a meditation on this hymn, and these antiphons, seems an appropriate way to anticipate Advent.


[3] For the purposes of an essay in JLE, it is especially fortuitous that the first O Antiphon is on Wisdom, titled in classical music and traditional usage “O Sapientia.” Here is the original Latin together with a translation:



O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

attingens a fine usque ad finem,

fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:

veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.



O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other mightily,

and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.


[4] Isaiah had prophesied:

"The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:2-3).

[5] So here we are, beginning another church year, launching into the season of Advent, and it made me wonder… what kind of wisdom passes for wisdom these days in Lutheran circles? So I took the time to survey a wide cross-section of my colleagues. From approximately 100 submissions, I culled some favorites, listed as the conclusion of this essay.

[6] As you read them, consider what it is you are reading. Consider, furthermore, what you tend to assume wisdom is or does. For the O Antiphons, before wisdom is anything else, it is a person—either the “person” written of in Proverbs 8, Wisdom as a character, as a person, a woman; or Wisdom as the Christ, spoken from the lips of the Most High. So wisdom is not, in this sense, about particular ways of being in the world, maxims for living, best practices for the walk of faith. All reflection on “ethics” would be well-served to remember the who out of which all ethics arises.

[7] And yet if we read those portions of Scripture that are indeed categorized as “wisdom,” we get a sense that clearly wisdom is also a set of best practices, short phrases, pieces of advice, collected words that guide right living.

[8] They are also more than that. Wise sayings are easily memorized, and thus can devolve just as easily into cliché through overuse. They are hackneyed through overuse but are not trivial per se in and of themselves. In spite of their familiarity, they are wise.

[9] They also tend to offer an opportunity to laugh at the human condition. The best wisdom is helpful and funny at the same time. Reading through the list of collected wisdom from ELCA clergy, one gets a sense that wisdom worth remembering is the kind of wisdom that gets one through the day, and lightens the load.

[10] As you read this set of wisdom sayings, I invite you to participate with me in an Advent wisdom project. Chinese restaurants have it right—they make sure to offer you a wise saying buried in a cookie. Christian communities can emulate this practice. It can start with all of us. When you put tags on your Christmas gifts this holiday season, write one of the following wisdom-sayings (or one of your own) on the back-side of each tag. Let wisdom shape and mold you, offer wisdom as a gift to your family and friends, trusting that truly wise sayings participate in Wisdom, precisely because they are spoken in and out of the Sapientia, the very one spoken into the world, who is sweetly ordering all things and teaching the way of prudence.

[11] The “sayings:”

It’s not about you.

It's amazing what you can do when you really don't have a choice.

How quickly we become history while wanting always to be news.

We are beggars. This is true.

Loved people, love people.

Either fly as far as you can from men, or else, laughing at the world and the men who are in it, make yourself a fool in many things.

If I think someone has no problems, it only shows I don't know that person very well.

Most jobs are a set of tasks with relationships embedded. Pastoral ministry is a set of relationships with tasks embedded.

Don't worry about tomorrow; today has enough problems of it's own.

Ask yourself, "Will this matter a year from now?"

All Christian progress in life is return to baptism — there's nowhere else to go.

The end of life is not to achieve pleasure or avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.

I'm still discovering, right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing, we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.

Remember, you are not God.

We meet Jesus on the way up. We get to know him on the way down.

Never fry bacon in the nude.

No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

Don't be content with being average; average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top.

A fool returns to his folly just as a dog returns to its vomit.

Let go. Let God.


God often speaks through people who disagree with you. Listen.


When you are fishing for people make sure you have the right bait


There is no resurrection without crucifixion.


You don't have to change the world, just change worlds.


All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.


Reality is in relationship.


How soon not now becomes never.


Now that you don't have to do anything, what are you going to do?


Never lie to your husband, but sometimes you'll need to use cash.


It's easier to get forgiveness than permission.


The first step to getting out of a hole: STOP DIGGING.


Just because a task is urgent doesn't mean it's important.

In this life do or do not; there is no try.

Just because it's difficult doesn't mean you can't do it.

Keep calm and carry on.

If at first an idea does not sound absurd, then there's no hope for it.

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

Find out what it is in life that you don't do well, and then don't do that thing.

Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.

Lead by example.

Religious people fear hell; spiritual people have been through hell.

Abusus non tollit usus. (Abuse does not abolish proper use).

There are a whole lot of people who are so freakin' busy—they've so cluttered up their lives—they're at their wits' end. And if they'd only just stop for a minute, they could hear the God of the universe whisper to them, "I love you."

Know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run.

It's never too early to start beefing up your obituary.

You can take care of your yard or not, son. One way or the other, something is going to grow there. You decide what it is going to be.

Your children will do very little of what you say and quite a bit of what you do.

Life's never so bad it can't get worse.

You can't push rope.

It might do us good to remember from time to time that, while differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.

The most dangerous sin of all is the presumption of righteousness.

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.

The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative.

If someone offers you a breath mint - take it.

Wisdom is ignorance aware of itself.

Never go grocery shopping when you're hungry.

Sometimes you just have to give up and go home.

Never drink to make yourself feel better. It might work and habits are hard to break.

There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet.

Remember: pillage BEFORE burning...

Clint Schnekloth is Lead Pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and a doctor of ministry candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. Clint maintains "Lutheran Confessions," the longest running Lutheran blog in North America.




© November/December 2012
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 12, Issue 6