The Advent Paradox

by Ben Howard

Ben Howard

Several years ago, I went to Christmas concert at my church and watched two of the musicians perform a mash-up of the traditional Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” with the R.E.M. classic “Everybody Hurts.” The performers had reworked the two songs so that they spoke back and forth to each other. The anticipation and hope of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” serving as an elixir to the pain and heartache of “Everybody Hurts.” This result was a beautiful paradox of light mingling with dark and creating a beautiful symphony.

I love a paradox. There’s something about the contradictions and confusions that flow out of a paradox that unlocks the complexity of real life. It’s messy. It’s confusing. It forces me to think and challenges me to slow down and question my assumptions.

It’s why I love Advent, because it’s full of paradoxes. It’s a season of reflection and meditation that falls smack-dab in the middle of one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. It’s all about the anticipation of life and light, but it’s set during the middle of winter as the days shorten and the light fades. It’s light in the dark. Quiet during the noise. Complexity and contemplation offset by the gaudy, yet wonderful simple nature of our traditional Christmas affectations.

When we allow ourselves to sit in the middle of the paradox, when we give up trying to figure things out and explain the complexities, that’s when we can really allow ourselves to fully bask in the beauty of the Christmas season. The beauty of the Christmas season is that it doesn’t make sense, but it works. A virgin has a child. God is a baby who has come to save the world. The working-class shepherds, not the wealthy aristocrats, are invited into the presence of a newly ascendant king. None of it makes sense!

But that doesn’t matter. The paradox, the mystery, the messiness of it all is the point. That’s the miracle. Everything comes together and it creates something beautiful.


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