We never tire of hearing this Christmas story told to us by Luke. All creation is involved in this happy day. The stars of heaven, the heavenly hosts praising God, the humble shepherds and their flocks and the young, frightened, far from home couple, Joseph and Mary and their new born son, Jesus. For centuries we’ve applied the poetry of the Book of Wisdom to Christ’s birth “when all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of its course, your almighty word leapt down from heaven from your royal throne.” St. John tells of this wonder in another way “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God – and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.”
Most crèches show the infant Jesus lying in the manager with a white cloth covering him, his arms opened wide in welcome. But Luke tells us that the shepherds were told they would find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. I looked up the word ‘swaddling’ on the internet and read that swaddling is an age-old practice of wrapping infants snugly in swaddling cloths, blankets or similar cloth so that movement of the limbs is tightly restricted. Swaddling bands were often used to further restrict the infant. It was commonly believed that this was essential for the infants to develop proper posture. Swaddling fell out of favor in the 17th century. It has become popular again as modern medical studies indicate that swaddling assists babies to sleep and to remain asleep and that it lowers the risk of crib death. Every now and then I’m called to the neo natal section of NYGH and I’d see these preemies wrapped tight in blankets and I’ve often wondered why – now I know, they are being swaddled for their own protection.
But again, most crèches show the Christ Child free of swaddling clothes and with arms wide open. It’s all a very powerful gesture symbolizing the truth that Christ embraces all peoples and it points to that future day when Christ would open his arms on the cross.
When we stop to think about it, all through his life of ministry Christ’s arms were always open; open to embrace children, open to embrace lepers and outcasts, open to welcome tax collectors and sinners, Christ’s arms were open to embrace and support those robbed of sight, speech and hearing, His arms were open to welcome home the wandering, rebellious son, His arms were open to lift up from the ground the woman caught in adultery. His arms were open to embrace the grieving Martha and Mary.
At this Christmas Mass at which we celebrate the wonder that God so loved the world God sent His Son to the world not to condemn but to embrace our humanity Christ’s arms are open to welcome every one here at this Eucharist. It doesn’t matter whether the last time you were here was last Sunday or last Christmas Christ embraces us all as we are, with all the blessings with which we’ve been blessed and with all our faults and failings.
As Christ opens his arms in love to embrace and lift us up, may we be gracious enough, open minded and hearted enough to open our arms, our lives to each other and accept and respect every person who comes into our lives every day of lives, as they are, regardless of their race, religion, social standing or life style – this is what Christ has done to us – we can do no less to others.