Arms outstreched to save. This image of the babe in the crib with arms outstretched to save has been with me all week. “You shall call his name Jesus because He is the one to save his people from their sins”. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. What an extraordinary definition of sin and its consequences- a falling short of the glory of God.

All of us have sinned. And what is God’s response to our rejection of Him? Is it as we would expect one of criticism, of judgment, of condemnation, of banishment, of exclusion? No, rather wonder of wonders, God’s response to our disobedience is one of concern, concern for us. He doesn’t want us to be deprived of the happiness union of life with Him would bring us.

Because of our sin we have forfeited the glory God had destined for us. Our sin excludes us from participating in the fullness of the Divine Love. And so that we who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God could regain access to that glory, God sent his Son in a mortal nature like ours to do away with sin by nailing it to the Cross in His very person, thereby enabling us to be adopted as children of God.

How much love is contained in God’s decision to become Man. What depth of yearning for us to participate in his divine life provoked such a drastic solution. The All Holy, All powerful unseen God, Creator of the heavens and the Earth and all they contain sends his Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to take flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and to become one like us, for us. In Jesus, the babe in the manger we see our God made visible. In Him we see God’s total gift of Himself to us. We see the distance love was prepared to travel. In this is love not that we loved God but that He first loved us and sent His Son so that in Him we might be enabled to make the return journey into the heart of the Trinity. “No one has ever seen God but it is the only Son who is nearest the father’s heart who has made him known”. In Jesus we see the heart of God laid bare. “This is how much I love you” God says to us through the Infant in the Manger.

Is it by chance or by some hidden design of God that the Infant in the Crib is so often depicted with arms wide open as if He is asking to be taken up and embraced? I am deeply struck by this. It looks as if he is willing to go to anyone, to everyone. How symbolic. Here we see the unconditional love of God. He makes no demands, no conditions. He leaves himself vulnerable, willing to be taken to anyone’s heart, more than that even, yearning, almost in supplication, to be taken to every one’s heart. As at birth so also in life and death Jesus surrenders himself into the hands of others.
It seems that all we have to do is to be willing to receive Him. He asks nothing more of us than that we be willing to take him into our arms. And yet to reach out and clasp Him to ourselves, we have to let go of anything else in our grasp. We have to drop whatever we are holding on to no matter how small or how light our hold. New born infants are fragile they have to be enfolded completely with an all absorbing attention.

Christ is not whole without the Church so Blessed Isaac of Stella reminded us during Advent. We are His body. And so the challenge is posed – Are my arms opened to embrace Jesus as He comes to me in the guise of another ? Am I prepared to be Jesus open and vulnerable ready to give myself to everyone without reservation?
It is in that embrace that we will encounter the living God and be caught up into the God we do not see.

Mary,

You who not only
Gave God’s infinity,
Dwindled to Infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth milk and all the rest
But mother each new grace
That does now reach our race.
Come and make new
Nazareths in us,
Where you shall yet conceive
Him, morning noon and eve,
New Bethlems, and he be born
There, evening, noon and morn
G M Hopkins (adapted)