If one were to try to summarize what is, perhaps, the dominant theme found in the Church’s reflection, teaching, and worship at the birth of Christ, it might well be that it could be stated in one word: paradox. Even a brief survey of the Church’s hymns, the preaching of her pastors, and the iconography of the feast would substantiate, I believe, this claim. From the quote above, taken from the sermon of St Gregory the Theologian, to the multitude of hymns contained in the service books as well as those by such as St Ephrem the Syrian and St Romanos the Melodist, one finds not only on every page but in almost every line a reflection and sense of amazement at the paradox which is at the center of the Mystery which is at the heart of all creation: the Mystery of Christ.
We have grown accustomed and, therefore, comfortable with hearing that God became man. We hear the word “incarnation” and we do not even pause, not to say tremble, with amazement. Looking at the infant at the center of the icon we still do not see. Yet how many times do the very hymns that we sing for the feast tell us to "Behold! Look! Be amazed!”? And so it behooves us, as we prepare for the feast, to consciously and deliberately consider the paradox that is Christmas.
Not one of us would let our children sleep through Christmas morning because they need their sleep. There will be another time for sleep! And like a loving mother on Christmas morning looks not at the gifts under the tree but for wide eyes and open mouths on the faces of her children, so does the church through her hymns, orations and icons point to Christ while imploring us to "Look and see!" This she does, again and again, by calling us to attend to the paradox, the Mystery.
So, begging you to forgive my redundancy, hear again St Gregory:
If we are to truly celebrate the feast of our Lord's birth, brothers and sisters, then we must become as little children. With the eyes of our hearts wide open and the mouths of our spirits agape, let us look and see that which mind cannot comprehend but only love can embrace. It is the Mystery and the paradox stated most succinctly by St Romanos the Melodist: a little child, God before the ages.
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
If you feel that hatred has overwhelmed you, remain silent. Say nothing until, by ceaseless prayer and self-recrimination, you have calmed your heart.
+St Hilarion of Optina
If we abandon our own desires and opinions, and endeavor to fulfill God’s wishes and understanding, we will save ourselves, no matter what our position, no matter what our circumstance. But if we cling to our own desires and opinions, neither position nor circum- stance will be of help. Even in paradise Eve transgressed God’s commandment, and life
with the Savior Himself brought the unfortunate Judas no good. As we read in the Holy Gospels, we require patience and an inclination to pious living.
+St Ambrose of Optina
With fasting I gladden my hope in You, my Lord, Who are to come again. Fasting hastens my preparation for Your coming, the sole expectation of my days and nights. But truly, abstaining from food will not save me. Even if I were to eat only the sand from the lake, You would not come to me, unless the fasting penetrated deeper into my soul.
+St Nikolai (Velimirovich)