This past Sunday was Epiphany Sunday in the Western Church, marking the end of the Twelve days of Christmas, or Christmastime. Yes, in the liturgical calendar, Christmas is a season, albeit a short one, just like Advent, Lent, and Pentecost. Advent is marked as a season of longing and hope. Christmas and Epiphany are a time to reflect on the paradox and irony of Christianity.
Paradox, Irony, Christmas and Epiphany
Christianity is full of both paradox and irony. At Christmas, the all-powerful King of the Universe was born into this world as a needy, and helpless, baby. The one who held the molecules of his mother together (Colossians 1:17), was nursed by that very body. At Epiphany, the Jewish Messiah was sought out not by the religious scholars of Israel, but by the Pagan philosophers of the East. At Christmas, the mother of God was rejected by her family for being pregnant out of wedlock, so that through the one being born, those who are outside of the family of God could be brought in. At Epiphany, the wise came “to pay tribute to one who can not yet speak.”
The messianic expectations of the first century were great. Under the oppression of Rome, the Jews looked eagerly for the birth of the Messiah—the one who would defeat Rome and free Israel. Jesus’ life was marked by the signs of the Messiah. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, boldly and famously confessed to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” But Jesus was crucified by Roman authorities, crushed by the ones he was supposed to crush.
Paradox, Irony, and the Cross
A “black fly in your chardonnay” is unfortunate (as is 10,000 spoons, rain on your wedding day, etc). The cross was ironic in the most crushing sense. Upon Jesus rested the hope of Israel. Through the cross, their view of salvation was shown to be nearsighted as the resurrection and ascension of Christ showed that he was really the hope of the world.
This paradox of the cross is picked up by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:
1:18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
20Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Paradox, Irony, and the Christian
How often we forget that what’s good for the Messianic goose, is good for the adopted gander. The Gospel call is an invitation to crucifixion. Jesus said,
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24).
The ironies and paradoxes of Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, and Easter crash into the lives of believers. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this, with regards to them becoming Christians in the first place:
1:26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
But the paradox doesn’t end where faith begins. The entirety of the Christian life consist of such things. Paul writes to the church in Rome that, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). James writes to Christians facing persecution that, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
It is through suffering that hope and perseverance are produced, but why does that surprise us? It was through Jesus’ death that such things were made possible to begin with.