Your Arms Holding Him, His Arms Holding You

Homily for Christmas 2022.

You may be surprised to hear this, given that I’m a priest, but from the time I was in sixth grade until I was a sophomore in college, I really didn’t like people a whole lot. Thankfully that’s changed. But if I would have had a moto during those teenage years it would have been, “People are the worst.” I’m sure some of you felt the same way during your teenage years; some of you may even feel the same way now.

But my general aversion to people as a teenager was reflected in a number of ways, one of which was the pictures I took. If I scroll back through my photos from those years, very few of them are of people, even of family or close friends. Most of them are pictures of nature: flowers, trees, lakes, mountains. All that began to change, however, when my older siblings began to have kids. Some of my earliest pictures with people in them are of me holding my nieces and nephews as infants. Although it was a principle I lived by that perfectly good photos were generally ruined by having people in them, babies were an exception.

There’s nothing like holding a baby to warm the heart of the most anti-social teenager or curmudgeonly senior. It’s enough to make even the smallest and most grinch-like of hearts grow three sizes larger. It’s almost impossible not to love a baby you are holding in your arms. This is especially true if the baby is your son or daughter, your brother or sister, your relative or your godchild. But even if the child’s parents are basically strangers, you still can’t help the love and affection that rises almost spontaneously in your heart. Of course, reality sets in the moment the baby goes from being full to needing to be feed, or from being full in another sense and needing to be cleaned and changed. But the reality of attending to the needs of an infant doesn’t take away or negate those precious moments of love when your heart feels so full that it might burst.

At Christmas we celebrate the fact that God became man. We call this mystery of our faith the Incarnation. But more specifically at Christmas we celebrate the fact that God became a baby. And what is revealed by this, is not only that God loves us, but that God wants to be loved by us, because how can we not love a child? God wanted to remove every barrier to being loved by us, and so He came as a child. God knew that size can sometimes intimidate us, so He came in smallness. God knew that wealth and power can sometimes separate us, so He came in poverty and weakness. God knew that words and actions can sometimes confuse and frustrate us, so He came in silence and peace. From all eternity God has loved us. That is why, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son. But likewise, from all eternity, God has desired to be loved by us. That is why, in the fullness of time, God sent His Son, not as an already fully-grown man, but as a baby: small, poor, weak, silent, peaceful, and infinitely loveable. God wanted to remove every barrier to being loved by us, and so He came as a child, because how can we not love a child?

Imagine holding the Christ-child in your arms. As you look at Him, and He looks at you, you realize that you are holding the God of the Universe, the one who created you, in your arms. From all eternity He had you in mind: He knew the color of your eyes and every form and feature of your face. He now looks upon you with His own human eyes. You also realize in that moment that not only are you holding your Creator but your Redeemer as well. His hands and feet are now bound by swaddling clothes; one day they will be bound by nails on a cross. He is now wrapped in a garment; one day, another garment will be wrapped around Him as He is laid in the tomb. The child in your arms is your Creator and your Redeemer—the one who made you and who saves you. No matter who you are, or what you’re going through in life, how could you not be filled with the deepest love and most tender affection as you hold the Christ-child?

The invitation this Christmas is not to remain an observer, but to become an actor; not to watch the Holy Family from afar, but to take the place of Mary or Joseph and hold the child Jesus in your arms. This is an invitation to rediscover that being a Christian is first and foremost about an encounter with a Person: A Person who loves us, and who desperately desires to be loved by us. Only in allowing ourselves to by loved by Jesus and by loving Him in return, with all our hearts, that we discover what it means to be a Christian. Everything else the follows—the challenges and demands of living the Christian life—follow much more easily if we begin by taking the Christ-child in our arms and encountering in Him a God that is infinitely lovable. If we begin by taking the Christ-child in our arms, we will discover, that as Jesus grows, and as we encounter His saving, but often challenging, words and actions as a grown man, that we have gone from holding Jesus to being held by Him. We will discover that Jesus’ arms, which were once bound by swaddling clothes, are now freed to bless us, raised to heal us, and outstretched to embrace us.

But the question is, where are we to encounter this Christ-child today? The Christ who was once born in Bethlehem has now died, risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven. How then can we take Christ-child into our arms, except in our imaginations?

We can take Him into our arms by embracing those who most resemble the Christ-child in His smallness, poverty, and weakness: by embracing the child in the womb, the person on the street, the sick and the homebound. These least among us are the Christ-child in His distressing disguise. But the Christ-child is also to be found here, at this Mass, and at every Mass. For He is to be found in the gift of the Holy Eucharist.

The same reason which brought Christ to earth as a child, hiding His glory and grandeur in humanity and humility, is the reason which led Christ to remain on earth in the Eucharist, hiding His Divinity in simple food and drink. God wants to remove every barrier to being loved by us. To remove the barrier of size, He comes as a small host. To remove the barrier of wealth and power, He comes as food that can be broken and consumed. To remove the barrier of words and actions, He comes as something that cannot speak or move. In the Holy Eucharist, we can encounter the Christ-child. We can take Him into our arms—and more than that, we can take Him into our hearts.

And so, as we receive the Eucharist at this Christmas Mass, let us once more discover a God who loves us and who desires to be loved by us. God does not need our love; He wants our love. He begs for our love as someone who is poor, He thirsts for our love as someone who is weak. As we receive the Eucharist, let us hold the Christ-child in our hearts. Let us look upon Him who created us and redeems us. And let us love Him who was born for us this day in Bethlehem. Amen.