Wisdom and the Constancy of Light: Sermon on Psalm 103 (Vespers)

Wisdom and the Constancy of Light: Sermon on Psalm 103 (Vespers)

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As we give blessing to God for the end of one day and the beginning of another, the words of Psalm 103 in our Vespers service bid us turn our thoughts to the Lord’s work in creating the world.

1. How magnified are thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all (Ps. 103:26). The whole creation, the Psalmist tells us, has been fashioned “in wisdom.” The great multitude of Fathers identify this “wisdom” with the Son and Word of God – in St. Paul’s words, “Christ … the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). It is by this wisdom that God “formed the earth” (Prov. 3:19): the beloved Son of God through whom “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Col. 1:15, cf. 1:16); the Word in whom “all things were made” (Jn. 1:3).

As the work of the uncreated Logos or Reason of God, the world is stamped with rational design. In this wise order of created things may be found a trace, a fingerprint, of God’s uncreated Wisdom. Likewise, by this same Wisdom, God maintains the world in being: as the Apostle tells us, through Christ we have our existence (1 Cor. 8:6); in Him “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

2. The Psalmist continues: Thou shalt send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth (Ps. 103:32). Creation is as much a work of the Holy Spirit as it is of the Father and the Son. This is as it was in the beginning, when the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2).

But let us note the specific role which David accords the Spirit in the work of Creation here: He is at work in the renewal of the face of the earth. Just as we confess in the Creed, so also here the Spirit is to zoopoion – literally, “the maker of life.” Things which have a beginning wear out, run down. But the Holy Spirit, without beginning or end, works in all things to repair this “entropy,” the disrepair brought by sin and death.

The Spirit re-directs creation in its movement towards this final consummation: The advent of Wisdom, the Son of God, in the flesh, and the glorification of the entire Creation with Him. The Spirit works to prepare the coming of Wisdom: as we read at the end of the Book of Revelation, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” (Rev. 22:17).

3. The Coming of Jesus Christ, Incarnate Wisdom, was no afterthought on the part of God, occurring only to redeem us from our sin. No: the world was fashioned from the beginning “in wisdom” (Ps. 103:26) in order that Wisdom Himself might come to dwell “in the world” (Jn. 1:10), with a people whom He would make His own. This is “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,” of which the Apostle Paul speaks, “that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known… according to the eternal purpose which He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:9-11). The entire Creation has been fashioned to be a theater of divine glory, the central dramatic act of which is the coming of the Son.

4. With this meditation, we can look upon the visible world around us with new eyes. In particular, as we give thanks for the “gentle light” of evening and offer prayers at the lighting of the lamps, we marvel at the remarkable work of divine Wisdom that is light.

Since Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, scientific thinking has been made ever more aware of the unique status which light has in our universe. It is through deciphering light signals that our knowledge of the world is gained. It is light that reveals the orderly nature of things. Moreover, all bodies in motion are defined in relation to space and time, and space and time are defined with reference to light. Yet light is not defined with reference to anything else.

Hence, created light has the character of an ultimate factor in the universe: the Constant expressed as C in scientific equations. If the speed of light varied, if its movement wobbled in any way, there would be no order, only random disorderly events, chaos. It would seem that the universe is structured so as to depend upon the constancy of light.

Now our Psalmist also sees in light a similar principle of order and stability in creation. Light for David characterizes God’s kingly rule; light sets the wise boundaries within which creatures may live in harmony:

Thou art clothed with honor and majesty, who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment… Thou hast made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knoweth the time for its setting. Thou appointest the darkness, and there was the night, when all the beasts of the forest creep forth… The sun ariseth, and they are gathered together and they lay them down in their dens (Ps.103: 1-2, 19-20, 22).

God is Himself eternal uncreated Light, constant, ever unfailing. Yet in His Wisdom, He created the universe in such a way that it is governed by created light, and He invested this light with a vestige of His own constancy and power.

Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and we give thanks for the greater lights that rule the day, and the lesser lights that rule the night, let us turn our minds to marvel at the Wisdom of God at work everywhere in creation, and praise the constancy of Jesus Christ – that “gladsome Light,” the “true Light” (Jn. 1:9) which shines from “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).

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Fr. Matthew Baker

Fr. Matthew Baker of blessed memory was a priest of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston and a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at Fordham University.