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.

10 Responses

  1. Sandra Lipari says:

    LORD help me “serve” better and more than ever before, like our beloved St. Bakhita!
    Merry Christmas!

  2. Cathy says:

    A Little Litany – by G.K. Chesterton

    When God turned back eternity and was young,
    Ancient of Days, grown little for your mirth
    (As under the low arch the land is bright)
    Peered through you, gate of heaven–and saw the earth.

    Or shutting out his shining skies awhile
    Built you about him for a house of gold
    To see in pictured walls his storied world
    Return upon him as a tale is told.

    Or found his mirror there; the only glass
    That would not break with that unbearable light
    Till in a corner of the high dark house
    God looked on God, as ghosts meet in the night.

    Star of his morning; that unfallen star
    In that strange starry overturn of space
    When earth and sky changed places for an hour
    And heaven looked upwards in a human face.

    Or young on your strong knees and lifted up
    Wisdom cried out, whose voice is in the street,
    And more than twilight of twiformed cherubim
    Made of his throne indeed a mercy-seat.

    Or risen from play at your pale raiment’s hem
    God, grown adventurous from all time’s repose,
    Or your tall body climed the ivory tower
    And kissed upon your mouth the mystic rose.

  3. RichardC says:

    The All-Powerful one lies bound in swaddling clothes. That is basically the first one in the video, but I made up before watching the video and like the phrasing better.

  4. edracruz says:

    In obscurity and ignominy HE came. Yet in the third millenium, HE is still the source of controversy all over this so called ‘intellectual and enlightened’ increasingly secular world. Shudder and tremble, you unbelievers, if this is not the work of THE ALMIGHTY BEING, this event should have been lost and forgotten already. DOMINUS noster regnat.

  5. GaryM. says:

    Like you, Christ Child, I am a feeble and dependent child. I too trust your Mother for confidence and abandonment. By my love and belief in you, I too must flee from modern day Herods.

    Mother Mary, teach me how to be loving and pleasing to Him and protect me from worldly temptations.

    Baby Christ Jesus, you are my God and my King.

    Amen.

  6. Donna says:

    Thank you! What beautiful thoughts for meditation!!

  7. Donna says:

    Another parodox – Those who were privileged to see the King of Kings after His birth were not the rich and powerful as is expected, but the humble and lowly…shepherds and animals and two humble people. This fact always reminds me that it is the humble who are invited to see God – not the proud A-listers!!

  8. myshkin says:

    through one woman sin entered the world- but through this Second Eve comes life. Oh happy fault, Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

  9. Cathy says:

    Another paradox: The all-powerful God of Love cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to Him.

    From Pope Benedict’s “Urbi et Orbi” Christmas Day 2012 message:
    “[God's] all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him. Porta fidei! The door of faith! We could be frightened by this, our inverse omnipotence. This human ability to be closed to God can make us fearful. But see the reality which chases away this gloomy thought, the hope that conquers fear: truth has sprung up! God is born!”

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