The birth of Jesus, in which the Word of God becomes flesh and lives among us, is celebrated in advance in Isaiah 11:2-3, one of the Advent prophecies with which the church waits for Christmas,
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. (NAB)
St. Thomas Aquinas (who says Christianity doesn’t produce great intellects?) distilled this passage into what are known as The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1831 lists them as
wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
We first encounter the Spirit who gives these gifts in the beginning, initiating the seven days of creation,
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2 ESV)
Are there any correspondences between the Spirit’s original creative work and how the Spirit continues to visit the creation with gifts?
Day 1/Gift 1: Light and Wisdom
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3 ESV) Human instinct equates wisdom with light. The word “enlighten” captures this. Ancient wisdom says, And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness (Ecclesiastes 2:13 NASB). Likewise we state the inverse, that darkness is deprivation of wisdom, You’re wrong, you madman. There’s no darkness except ignorance (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night 4.2).
The Spirit’s ultimate work is testimony to Jesus, in whom wisdom is made complete,
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NKJV)
Day 2/Gift 2: Heaven and Understanding
And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.(Genesis 1:7 ESV) Heaven is the “expanse” and separates the waters of the earth from the waters of the clouds. Yet we know that rain and snow will fall and evaporation will take place. The waters are in constant interplay as liquid, solid and gas.
The Spirit weaves the very nature of God into the creation here. Father, Son and Spirit are three distinct persons but are one substance, one God. The Christian revelation of God as a mysterious, always existing relationship is reflected in the fluid (sorry, but it’s the best word here) division of the waters.
Understanding is the gift that overcomes division. It’s more than our paltry “toleration” of difference; it is the establishment of unity, even compassion.
The Spirit prepares the creation for human beings, creatures separated from the Creator yet bearing His image and intended to enjoy the creation with Him for eternity.
Jesus is God and human being, and he works to restore lost understanding. As he told his followers after stooping to wash their feet,
“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7 NIV)
Day 3/Gift 3: Land, plant life and counsel.
The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:12 ESV)
Although humanity, rebellion and death have not warped the creation to this point, God brings forth life that will be tended by people and can be cultivated for greater abundance. Or wasted.
Counsel will emerge as generations pass on guidance as to which plants are good to eat, what is required for their growth and how to farm for plentiful harvests.
Counsel will be needed to warn about behavior that depletes the earth or hoards the bounty.
Jesus points to the fruit of the earth as he counsels gratitude toward God and generosity toward other people,
And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21 NASB)
Day 4/Gift 4: Heavenly Bodies and Fortitude
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:14-15 ESV)
What does God hanging all those lights have to do with us exercising fortitude or enduring strength?
God reveals that the heavens will become a source of power and responsibility to humanity. We work in the light and rest in the dark. We recognize or ignore signs; we understand the demands and priorities of seasons; we tie our efforts and deadlines to calendars reflecting the patterns in the skies.
Navigating signs and seasons, days and years requires fortitude. Strength against cynicism when the same routines come and go. Endurance for work that must be maintained “in season and out.” The courage to cease work on an appointed day of rest and exercise faith that the cosmos depends upon God, not us.
In his season on the Earth, Jesus pointed to himself as the ultimate heavenly light, the sign that needs to be seen and followed in the fortitude of faith,
Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” (John 12:35-36 NLT)
Day 5/Gift 5: Aquatic Life, Birds and Knowledge
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:20-21 ESV)
After the plants, God creates more complex life. These creatures live in environments that the soon-to-be human race cannot naturally inhabit, the water and the sky.
Yet when humans come to be, we look at these creatures and categorize them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19 ESV) Be it a scientific descriptor like chondrichthyes or the more common dubbing, these creatures take their names from our point of view; we relate to them based on our knowledge of the creation.
And by our knowledge we gain ability to inhabit their environments, at least for limited stretches. We observe that wood floats, so we build rafts. We know more of what makes for buoyancy, and we build vessels of other materials. We know we need air, so we devise snorkels, scuba gear, submarines and other means to visit the sea creatures where they live. We know the birds and how they stay aloft, and we fashion our own flying machines to keep us airborne for awhile.
But knowledge imparted by God is not limited to some dispassionate awareness. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. (I Corinthians 13:2 NLT)
All creation is an expression of divine love. This is the height of knowledge. We exist because of God’s love, and we are given the high position to know and love all else that He’s made. So Jesus came to tell us,
Day 6/Gift 6: Terrestrial Life (including Humans) and Piety
There’s a dog at my feet as I ponder and try to express things. A loving companion of God’s own making.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man… (Genesis 2:18-19 ESV)
But God went beyond this on the sixth day, imbuing the human race with more of the divine mystery, complete only as a relationship of persons,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 ESV)
Upon this outward and visible expression of God’s image God sent an inward and spiritual reality,
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28 ESV)
We not only bear a likeness to our Maker, we share God’s life-giving power and His rule over the creation.
This sets up two possible responses. Our dominion over the earth can be short sighted and self centered, or it can have an eternal point of view filled with the Creator’s love. We can practice piety, seeing the presence and purpose of God in all things and treating every bit of life as holy.
If we are aware of the blessing, we can shape our lives as offerings of gratitude and praise to God, in everything and for everything.
Piety is an identity and a way of life, not an occasional expression of “religion.” This is the offering of life that Jesus made and that Jesus offers for us and to us,
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’ (John 6:37-40 NRSV)
Day 7/Gift 7: Rest and The Fear of the Lord
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 1:31; 2:1-3 ESV)
Rest and fear? Doesn’t make sense unless you’re having a nightmare.
But look at God’s point of view, revealed by the Spirit in the Scriptures. God appreciated everything – it was good – so he stopped work to just let it be and to take it all in. But He wasn’t passive – he blessed the day, filling it with the Spirit. The day of wonder and appreciation became holy, God’s own.
Notice that he didn’t lean back and look at His infinitely complex masterpiece, full of upcoming disappointments, betrayals and calling for a massive divine sacrifice to restore it, and say, “Oh no, what have I done?” That’s not the “fear” that the Spirit delivers as a gift.
Rather, God entrusts the day to us. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). Yes, that can be read as one more obligation to be kept with craven fear, to ward off the wrath of a selfish pagan god. But that’s not what Jesus came to reveal,
Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 NASB)
The fear of the Lord we are meant to observe is to stand in awe and wonder of a love so great that it overwhelms us and, in doing so renews our lives. It is to sit back and delight in the creation and, more than that, the Creator who loves us and shares it with us forever. Jesus came and taught us,
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-12)
When I wish you a Merry Christmas, I express the hope – maybe even express the blessing – that the complete joy of the Heavenly Father, through the divine and human Son, in the creative and always gift-giving power of the Holy Spirit be yours now and for eternity. Amen.