Paradoxes of Christmas

In the ancient Church, and until rather recently, we genuflected at the two references to the incarnation in the Mass: at the Creed and at the Last Gospel (John 1). Why did we do this? It was explained to me that the mystery was so deep that one could only fall in silent reverence.

There are many paradoxes and seeming impossibilities in the incarnation. As mysteries they cannot be fully solved, so they claim our reverence. We genuflected in the past, and we bow today at the mention of the incarnation in the creed for it is a deep mystery.

As we approach Christmas I would like to list some of the paradoxes of Christmas. I want to say as little of them as possible, just enough to make the paradox clear. This paucity of words, not common with me, is in reverence to the mystery and also to invite your own reflection.

  1. The Infinite One becomes an infant.
  2. An antiphon for the Christmas season says,  How can we find words to praise your dignity O Virgin Mary, for he whom the very heavens cannot contain, you carried in your womb.
  3. An old Latin Carol (in Dulci Jublio) says, Alpha et O, Matris in Gremio – (Alpha and Omega, sitting in mommy’s lap).
  4. He who looks down on all creation looks up to see his mother.  The most high looks up from a cradle. Of this moment even the pagans wrote with longing and tenderness: Incipe, parve puer, risu cognoscere matrem….ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores, occidet et serpens, et fallax herba veneni occidet (Begin, little boy to recognize the face of your mother with a smile….For you, your own cradle will bear delightful flowers; the serpent will die, and the plant that hides its venom) – Virgil 4th Eclogue.
  5. He who indwells all creation is born in homelessness.
  6. He to whom all things in heaven and on earth belong, is born in poverty and neediness.
  7. He is the mighty Word through whom all things were made. He is the very utterance of God, the Voice which summons all creation into existence. Of this Word, this Utterance, this Voice,  Scritpure says,  The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is full of majesty….The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness …The voice of the LORD makes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps. 29).   Yet, this voice is now heard as the cooing and crying of an infant.
  8. His infant hand squeezes his mother’s finger, as infants do. From that same hand, the universe trumbled into existence. That same hand is steering the stars in their courses.
  9. He who holds all creation together in himself  (Col 1:17) is now held by his mother.
  10. He who is the Bread of Life is born in Bethlehem (House of Bread) and lies in a feeding trough (manger).
  11. He who is our sustainer and our food, is now hungry and fed by his mother.
  12. Angels and Archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and Seraphim thronged the air! But only his mother in her maiden bliss, could worship the beloved with a kiss. (Christina Rosetti “Ere the Bleak Mid Winter”).

Each of these is meant to be a meditation as Christmas approaches. Please add to this list!

Remember the word paradox means something that defies intuition or the common way of thinking. It unsettles or startles us to make us think more deeply. It comes from the Greek:  para- + dokein. Para usually meaning “beside, off to the side,” sometimes “above,”  and dokein meaning “to think or seem.” Hence a paradox is something off to the side of the usual way of seeing things or thinking about them. If you are going to relate to God you’re going to deal with a lot of paradox,  for God’s ways and thinking often defy and confound human ways and thinking. God is not irrational but He often acts in ways that do not conform with worldly expectations.

This Christmas consider these paradoxes and learn from them. Remember too, mysteries are to be lived more than solved. Reverence is more proper to mystery than excessive curiosity. Here, more is learned in silence than by many words.

18 Replies to “Paradoxes of Christmas”

  1. 13. That a child born of a Virgin is proof of Divine power, because it is above nature. Jesus spent 9 months in the womb. But, St. Thomas Aquinas explains (Summa Theologica, Q 31-Art.5): Jesus and the Godhead was not imprisoned in the womb. He states: “By no means does the Catholic Faith, which believes that Christ, the Son of God was so shut up in the womb, as to cease to be elsewhere, as though he had withdrawn himself from the Father. God, the creator of the soul and the body, is able to be entirely everywhere, and to be contained in no place. He is able to come without moving from the place he was; and to go without leaving the spot whence he came.”

    St. Thomas explains explains why a virgin birht is more noble than how you and I came into this world. He says: “For the first man (Adam) was made from the slime of the earth; without concurrence of a man or a women: Eve was made of a man, but not of a woman: and other men are made of both man and woman. So that this fourth manner remained as it were proper to Christ that he should be made of a woman without the concurrence of a man. Just as it was possible for the first man to be born out of the slime of the earth, so too was it possible for Christ’s body to be made by Divine Power from a virgin without the seed of a male. In order to manifest His Godhead, He was born of a Virgin, for such birth befit’s a God.

    Bishop Sheen in a homily said: “The Arch-Angel Gabriel passed over the beautiful daughters of the great Kings of the East, to find Mary.” Dante in his Comedy (in Paradiso) says: “I made myself a mother to be born of, O Blessed Virgin, daughter of your own son.”

    Surely Mary was the new Eve, bringing forth the new Adam. Mary must have been the most beautiful of all, spotless, radiant with splendor like a ruby sitting in gold beside a river of sapphire in banks of pearl, with herbage of emeralds and onyx, like a light shinning through a diamond ever changing in color and brightness exceeding the beauty of angels. Her womb was the first Tabernacle. “Little Lady, dressed in blue, teach us how to pray, God was just your little boy, and you know the way.”

    1. Yes, you are very right is accenting that the virgin birth emphasizes the power and intiative of God. SOme critics of the Church like to say it’s just that we have hang-ups about sex that Mary “has” to be a virgin. Ridiculous, Catholics are encouraged to have large families, no hang up about sex there. In the end the virgin birth emphasizes God’s action and intitiative.

  2. Great meditation! Thank you. (the image of Mary would look much better with a “Jewish” nose, a Middle Eastern nose, rather than “African.”)

      1. Immaculate Mary, having been bodily assumed into heaven, now existing with her glorified body, has a universal appearance. Just look at the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe — a dark-skinned mestizo, indigenous to that region known today as Mexico. And consider how Our Lady of La Vang appeared to the Vietnamese people. There are also countless Black Madonnas in art.

        While existing in history, Mary looked like the Middle Eastern woman she was, but she is now eternal with God, outside of history. Mary is the New Eve, mother of the living. As such, it is fitting that, in her glorified body, she should look like all peoples.

  3. I am sorry that we do not still genuflect at the references to Christ becoming man. It remains a deep mystery, one that shows God’s great love for us, and I find it awesome, so I do genuflect at those times, I cannot help myself. Just imagine, God has given us His only Son who was born to die for us. It is something well worth meditating and reflecting upon–at least to me.

    1. There were some rumors back in the year 2000 that Pope JP II would restore the genuflection in honor of the 2000th anniversary of the incarnation. Sdaly it never happened. As for bowing, we in America are just not all that good at bowing. Generally we look silly doing it for, unlike eastern cultures, we don’t know how to do it gracefully.

  4. Lovely reflection. My daughter and I were pondering these very mysteries and came to the conclusion that God does impossible things! But I think it’s a paradox only if we think of a God as being bounded, but He is not. God the Father, and Son and Spirit are One and unbound, as Grandpa Tom says. He is everywhere and can be in one place, eating supper with the disciples or looking up at his mother. The world doesn’t fall apart because he is a baby.

    However, we did wonder whether Jesus was the perfect little baby or toddler, whether he was like other boys who played pranks, and how He came to know He was the Holy One. I wish more were known about his early life and the development of his conscience, because he still had to grow up in a human body with human temptations.

    ps: And speaking of miracles, I have been doing so much better after being anointed (for the sick). Praise God! Even my Dr. cannot explain it.

  5. Another mystery, penned by Dante: “”O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son, humble beyond all creatures and more exalted; predestined turning point of God’s intention…”

    Mary is the daughter, spouse, and mother of God!

  6. Whom have we, Lord, like you
    The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,
    The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,
    The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.
    Blessed is your honor!

    St. Ephrem the Syrian

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