“I proclaim to you good news of great joy.” Luke 2:10
The Year of Faith invites us to an embrace. We cannot ignore an embrace. We can turn back from a glance, overlook a smile, and routinely shake hands, but when embraced, we are challenged to respond. The embrace can catch us by surprise or be the culmination of a life of devotion. This is what has happened on God’s part.
God spent a great deal of time preparing a People for His embrace. He could not abide the separation of sin Adam and Eve created. He wanted to love His creation and wanted creation to love Him in return. So He chose a Patriarch, Abraham, revealed His oneness to him, called a people to Himself, performed great works for them, gave them His name and all the tools for understanding His intent and purposes—sacred writings, a kingdom, a temple, sacrifices, and, yes, Mary. Only from a People with such devotion to the one God could a woman like Mary come. Oh, how beautiful is Mary returning the embrace! “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She returns the embrace of God with the devotion of silent reflection.
Absence makes the embrace more intense. Think of how a family greets a soldier coming home after a deployment. They don’t shake hands. They embrace. Think of how you greet your grandmother. You don’t pat her on the shoulder. You hug and kiss her. Think of God, from whom mankind was alienated, waiting, reaching down, making contact, and finally dropping down from the heavens, not in lightning and thunder but like gentle dew, born in a silent Bethlehem manger to a virgin mother. This is the embrace of God.
I love the eloquent words of the Letter to the Hebrews that describe this embrace of God’s Incarnation:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors
through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through
the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created
the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his
being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
And how do we return this embrace?
I am afraid that all too often we do not wait for the returning soldier or have time for the lonely grandmother. We are people of the world, with our own noisy concerns, distractions, and preoccupations. They are so important. And in all the noise and clamor, we miss the gentle embrace.
Christ is so simple, you see. It is not that He lacks depth and meaning. On the contrary, He is quite profound. His depth is found in a simple embrace that is so utterly not what we expect. And if we are too occupied and distracted by the world, we will miss the message. He reveals Himself to the world as a baby. The Word of God, when He comes into the world, cannot even speak a coherent word but sleeps the silent sleep of an infant. This is the sign that confirms the truth of the message that God loves us. When all has been said, there are no words. How do the angels say it: “[T]his will be a sign for you; you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). The infant is the sign.
There is one thing about an embrace that has always struck me as defining. It is silent. Nothing more must be said. Words cease. The embrace says it all.
The Year of Faith—the invitation to reengage our faith—calls us to embrace God. If you have been away from the faith, it is time to come home. If you have been around but tend to wander, then it is time to settle down. If this means conversion and confession, then so be it. If resolutions must be made, then we must keep them. God does not simply wait for you, He comes out to meet you. An empty house cannot greet the returning soldier. The grandmother wants her family around her. God wants you.
This was the “good news of great joy” that greeted the shepherds. God loved them. He did not want them to remain in the fields. He wanted them home, to go “in haste” (Luke 2:16) to the embrace of an infant.
Extending to you and your families my blessings for Christmas in this Year of Faith, I remain
Devotedly yours in our newborn Lord,
+Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles