Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas - the feast of Paradox

The Nativity of our Lord

(I did not draw this; my computer did according to my instructions. It is just one frame from a rather classical "example" called the "Game of Life" - its stained-glass liturgical-vestment effect seemed appropriate for my comments today.)

I would like to tell you about why this day ought to be called "the Feast of Paradox" but Chesterton already wrote about it. (Someday we'll go into it in detail, but not today!) Here is the relevant quote, from a chapter which everyone should read:
A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded. It is at least like a jest in this; that it is something which the scientific critic cannot see. He laboriously explains the difficulty which we have always defiantly and almost derisively exaggerated; and mildly condemns as improbable something that we have almost madly exalted as incredible; as something that would be much too good to be true, except that it is true. When that contrast between the cosmic creation and the little local infancy has been repeated, reiterated, underlined, emphasised, exulted in, sung, shouted, roared, not to say howled, in a hundred thousand hymns, carols, rhymes, rituals, pictures, poems, and popular sermons, it may be suggested that we hardly need a higher critic to draw our attention to something a little odd about it... Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars. His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savour of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God. But the two ideas are not naturally or necessarily combined. They would not be necessarily combined for an ancient Greek or a Chinaman, even for Aristotle or Confucius. It is no more inevitable to connect God with an infant than to connect gravitation with a kitten. It has been created in our minds by Christmas because we are Christians; because we are psychological Christians even when we are not theological ones. [GKC, "The God in the Cave", The Everlasting Man CW2:301-303, emphasis added]

Yes, the Feast of Paradox.

As I told you, there was one last something relating to ancient Rome upon which the story of Christmas depends. It is horrible to tell, but it is important, for it puts the Mass in Christmas.

That something is the Cross - the Roman form of capital punishment, which they got from the Phoenicians, reserved for slaves and foreigners. Moreover, as you will recall, the centurion verified His death by piercing His heart... and Pilate even checked up on this! Remember I told you yesterday that Rome recorded His birth? Well, that same Rome also recorded His death. (And if you quarrel about the lack of a post-mortem, etc, who on earth in all of history would be more apt to know that someone is dead than a Roman centurion? Give me a break.)

Yes, the shadow of the Cross looms even into this joyous moment, for Jesus was born in order that He might die - for us! and so we will recall today, as on every other day, that "the night before He died, He took bread ... and said This IS My Body ... He took the chalice of wine ... and said This IS the chalice of My Blood, of the New and Everlasting Covenant..."

Where else comes this Body, this Blood? "How slow you are to understand!"

Were not all these prophecies to be fulfilled?

"God will provide the sacrifice."

The tree of Man's defeat has become his Tree of Victory.

Didn't I mention how easy it is to think of Easter at this time of year?

* * *

And now, for your Christmas gift...

Ass, Ox, Sheep

How often I have been an ass - a name I've truly earned
When God's light I have ignored, and from Him I've turned.
But Francis also called himself an ass, and he knew its worth,
For our Lord rode on an ass while palms hid the earth.

And they say an ass was there "when night spanned half its course,"
A newborn in His mother's arms (unseen by mule or horse.)

How often I have been an ox - dull and slow to move,
When God's way I would not take, stuck in my own groove.
But Aquinas had that name, and his writings prove its worth,
By summing up theology, his bellows fill the earth.

And they say an ox was there when Jesse's fruit was born,
And first-milk calmed the baby crying in that winter morn.

How often I have been a sheep - in dirty fleece so proud,
Aimless I run for anything, but always with the crowd.
Yet since the Risen Christ told Peter the Pope
"Tend My Lambs, feed My sheep" I can still have hope.

And they say the sheep were there when Truth sprang from the earth
The angels sang, the shepherds came, to see the Christ at birth.

An ass I am, an ox, and sheep,
And for my sins I surely weep,
But this hope I also keep,
For they saw the infant sleep.

"Better one night in the stable of the Lord than a thousand elsewhere."

(composed Dec 24, 1998)

God bless you all!
A Holy and Merry Christmas to you!


At 25 December, 2005 11:15, Blogger rhapsody said...


Thank you!

A blessed Christmas to you & your family, too, Dr. Thursday!

At 26 December, 2005 20:23, Blogger Nancy C. Brown said...

Thank you for this wonderful gift, and the whole season of daily gifts. You have been a blessing to us.


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