The Paradox of Christmas

December 14, 2018

 

He comes forth, God with what he has assumed, one from two opposites, flesh and spirit, the one deifying and the other deified. O the new mixture! O the paradoxical blending! He who is comes into being, and the uncreated is created, and the uncontained is contained, through the intervention of the rational soul, which mediates between the divinity and the coarseness of flesh. The one who enriches becomes poor; he is made poor in my flesh, that I might be enriched through his divinity. The full one empties himself; for he empties himself of his own glory for a short time, that I may participate in his fullness. What is the wealth of his goodness? What is this mystery concerning me? I participated in the [divine] image, and I did not keep it; he participates in my flesh both to save the image and to make the flesh immortal. He shares with us a second communion, much more paradoxical than the first; then he gave us a share in what is superior, now he shares in what is inferior. This is more godlike than the first; this, to those who can understand, is more exalted.

-St Gregory the Theologian

 

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 does 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: “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:

 

“He who is” comes into being.

The uncreated is created.

The uncontained is contained.

The one who enriches becomes poor.

He is made poor in my flesh, that I might be enriched through his divinity.

The full one empties himself; for he empties himself of his own glory for a short time, that I may participate in his fullness.

I participated in the divine image, and I did not keep it; he participates in my flesh both to save the image and to make the flesh immortal.

He shares with us a second communion, much more paradoxical than the first; then he gave us a share in what is superior, now he shares in what is inferior.

 

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 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,

Fr John.

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