According to Google, a paradox is defined as “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” Paradoxes force us to reflect more deeply than our usual language does. Initially, the saying “you have to spend money to make money” seems idiotic, but upon further reflection, we can see its truth. Similarly, the famous quotation “it’s a shame youth is wasted on the young” uses paradox to communicate wisdom.
The Christmas season is full of paradoxes. It’s a season for giving to those in need, but it’s also the season for receiving gifts from others. It’s a season for keeping in mind those who are hungry and less fortunate, but it’s also the season to pig out at all those Christmas gatherings. It’s the season we celebrate the birth of the Christ to a poor couple in a forgotten part of the country amidst manure and dirt by putting on light displays, attending concerts, and running up our credit card debt. It is the season that so many people are excited to see arrive, but many of those same people are just as excited to see go.
In 1984, a Canadian parish minister and prison chaplain named Sylvia Dunstan penned the beautiful hymn “Christus Paradox” reflecting on the many paradoxes of Jesus: he is both lamb and shepherd, prince and slave, peace-maker and sword-bringer, and the everlasting instant. I have spent a good bit of time during this Advent season reflecting on that description of the “everlasting instant.” It seems to me a beautifully poignant description of the paradox of Christmas.
Perhaps one of life’s greatest paradoxes comes with waiting. We are all familiar with the anxiety and bursting emotions that come with waiting for an upcoming vacation or a wedding day or for the release of the newest iPhone. Sure, there may be lots of preparation and stress leading up to those moments, but they seem to pass so quickly as we are carried along by our joyful anticipation. The anticipation of Christmas morning is approaching its apex today for young children as they await their guest via the chimney later tonight.
The paradox of waiting is that the more quickly these eagerly anticipated moments arrive, the more quickly they are over. As parents sit among the balls of unwrapped gift paper watching their children enjoy their new toys on Christmas morning there is at least a hint of sadness at the fleetingness of the moment. All the planning and expectation and excitement has led to this moment – and now the moment is nearly gone. There is a paradox between waiting and the experience itself.
That’s why I love the idea of an “everlasting instant.” We have all had moments that we wish we could bottle up and enjoy on demand: the way we felt after our child was born, or after our team won the championship, or the moment we received the big promotion, or the way Christmas morning felt when we were 8 years old. While we may not be able to go back and relive those moments, being able to feel the way that we did in those moments would be a close second.
That is a pretty good description of what Christmas is about – trying to go back and feel the way Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi all felt as the Savior of the world had been born. That birth was an everlasting instant. That moment was full of hope and joy and power that continue to live on today. It is an instant that doesn’t fade away like others. We can join in Mary’s song today (and every day): “Oh how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:47).
I hope that each of us can find a way to take in every moment today. Yes, because it is fleeting, but more importantly, God has made this moment everlasting. We don’t have to lament the passing moments because the Savior who was born on Christmas Day was both alpha and omega, beginning and end. Advent lies at the heart of the Christian faith: realizing that the kingdom is already here, but it has not yet arrived in its fullness. Toward that end, we wait with joy in our hearts and peace in our minds. Merry Christmas to you and yours as we wait.