Christus Paradox

Solace in cells: Rev. Sylvia Dunstan; a United Church minister; shares a moment of prayer with an inmate at Whitby Jail. As chaplain to the 2,000 who pass through it each year; she arranges religious services at need. (Photo by Al Dunlop/Toronto Star)

By The Reverend William A. Evertsberg

Sometimes I think Christians inhale more theology from hymn singing than from long sermons or dense systematics. This is particularly true of our Christmas carols.

Charles Wesley’s resonant line “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/Hail the Incarnate Deity” is a terse précis of the doctrine of the Incarnation.

Phillips Brooks’ paean to the little town of Bethlehem—“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”—is a one-line synopsis of Christianity’s Salvation History.

Many years ago, I came across a 1984 hymn called Christus Paradox, which remains for me one of the most fecund and provocative hymns of the twentieth century. In this hymn to Christ, the author, United Church of Canada prison chaplain Sylvia Dunstan, describes Jesus in a series of tensive opposites. Here is the first of four verses:

You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd,
You, Lord, are both prince and slave.
You, peacemaker and sword bringer,
Of the way you took and gave.
You the everlasting instant;
You, whom we both scorn and crave.

The Reverend Dunstan’s deft poetic lines forced me think in new and challenging ways about the meaning of the One who came to Bethlehem. For me, her hymn was like a puzzle or a riddle, which forced me to give my imagination a strenuous workout.

Ms. Dunstan says her hymn was inspired by the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who once said that since all his colleagues in philosophy departments spend all their energy trying to make Christianity easier, he would devote his life to making it harder; Herre Kierkegaard reveled in the paradoxes of the faith.

Jo Forrest and I thought this hymn to Christ might make a provocative Advent sermon series.

November 26: Beside Us and Beyond Us

December 3: Earthly Jesus, Cosmic Christ

December 10: The One We Both Scorn and Crave

Christmas Eve: The Everlasting Instant


November 21, 2017

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