The Paradox of Christmas

The things we do at Christmas are touched with a certain extravagance…
Robert Collyer

Christmas is like life: too religious for the secularist and too secular for the religious. Christmas as it has been celebrated through the centuries has always swung between legalism and license, celebration and contemplation, social acceptance and rejection by church or state. Christmas seems to be too big and too complex for those who like to have their days neatly boxed, labeled, and pigeonholed. This holiday is too wild and untamed, never neatly fitting into anyone’s paradigm. 

For instance, the founder of Christmas begins life in a manger, crying like a baby. What respectable Almighty, all-powerful diety would countenance such a basic beginning? Yet the Bible says that this baby born to poor parents in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire is God himself come to earth in human flesh. There is great discomfort with the incarnation and the virgin birth and secularists cry, “Impossible! Myth, superstition, religious fanaticism.” Angels coming to shepherds, a star leading wise men from another country, dreams and visions and prophecies and miracles—it all sounds a little strange to those who live in a more utilitarian time. Medieval theologians debated how many angels could dance on a pin, modern secularists won’t even admit that angels might exist. Ancient prophecies and the claim that this Child is their fulfillment sound like fantasies in a world that has decided that prophets are out of date and miracles can all be explained away. Christmas is a difficult time for those who want easy explanations.

If you want to work for the kingdom of God, and to bring it, and enter into it, there is just one condition to be first accepted. You must enter into it as children, or not at all.
John Ruskin

Let us enjoy the paradox of a holiday that is both sacred and secular, Christian and pagan, worshipful and commercial. Let us choose to celebrate with mature faith and childlike hearts. Let us learn to see sanctity in the commonplace, delight in the details, and open our hearts to embrace the contradictions. Let us keep room in our hearts for both God and mankind, heaven and earth.

I choose to celebrate the sacred holiday and incorporate the riches of almost two thousand years of thought, theology, liturgy, and ceremony in my life. I also choose to make Christmas joyous by reveling in ancient traditions, folk customs, carols and songs, and lovely nonsense that may or may not have roots in pagan beliefs. I can sing Oh Holy Night with as much joy as I can dance to the Jingle Bell Rock. I will also make time for quietness to meditate on the meaning of Christmas, to treasure memories of Christmas past, and to pray for future Christmas hopes. 


The greatest gift that can come to anyone is to share in the infinite act by which God’s love is poured out upon all men.
Thomas Merton

I choose to be a child again at the sight of a lighted Christmas tree. I also choose to be a sophisticated adult, dressed up for a wonderful party. I’ll shop in malls and worship in church. I’ll spend money on a sinfully delicious chocolate truffle and write a check for my favorite charity. Christmas is a festival of light celebrated during the darkest part of the year. It’s an orgy of spending in a commercialized environment and an opportunity to listen to wonderful choirs singing about the love of God for mankind which is without price. It’s a family reunion, good fellowship time and the time when I feel most lonely in a crowd. Secular saints like Santa Claus and angels singing glory hallelujah in a starry night are both images I can live with. And  I will especially remember the paradox of God come as a child to earth to lift us up to heaven’s heights. I intend to revel in the paradox of Christmas, in all its glory and messiness. Care to join me?

Oh rich and various man! Thou palace of sight and sound, carrying in thy senses the morning and the night, and the unfathomable galaxy in thy brain, the geometry of the City of God; in thy heart, the power of love.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.  Praise ye the Lord.
Psalm 150:6 (KJV) 

Asked to declare the new beverage, coffee, unholy, Pope Clement III sampled it and declared instead: “This Satan’s drink is so delicious, it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it and making it a truly Christian beverage.”