I am captured by it every single time. I can have the news on for background noise only, and every time I find myself rushing back into the room or turning towards the screen so as to catch the sight of a dad or mom kneeling down to welcome the embrace of a school age child who is surprised and overjoyed by their unexpected homecoming. In these stories both of those sharing the embrace hold real life memories of one another which they are yearning to continue to build upon. Not so this time though.
For you see, this wonderful image came across on our congregation’s Facebook page this week. Brian, the returning soldier in the photo, is prayed for every time we gather as God’s people. While he and his young family no longer live here, his extended family does. So we pray for safety, for a sense of God’s presence, and that God might use these men and women who serve our country to be signs of justice and peace the whole world over. Just last week, Brian made it home in time for Christmas. The baby in his arms is his own 7 month old daughter, Ariea.
I shared a conversation with Brian’s mother, Ariea’s grandmother yesterday. She was beaming as she shared what she witnessed that day. For you see, until the moment you see pictured here, Brian and his daughter had never met face to face. Oh, the gift of modern technology has meant that he has been kept up to date on every development in her young life. The little one has been propped up to see and be seen when her mommy skyped with him. They have a video recording of Daddy reading “The Best Daddy Ever” which has been played to her rapt attention in these last months. But he was not here in person to hear her first cry, to walk her to sleep, to marvel at the color of her eyes, the texture of her skin, her awakening curiosity at the world. Captured here is the first time he held her in his arms, the first time she felt his strong arms embracing her.
Indeed, I am told that perhaps because of their efforts to make it so, her dad seemed to be somewhat familiar to her. Still, in those first moments Ariea did glance over at her mother more than once to be sure this was all right. You can’t tell in this image though. All we see is her smile.
To be sure, there is no experience shared between us humans which can come close to the gift of Christmas which is ours to receive once more in these days to come. Even so, as we prepare to celebrate the Incarnation once more, I got to thinking of how when Jesus came and comes to us, there may be ways in which he may seem familiar. At the same time it may still take us a moment or two or more to take him in. Indeed, I wonder at how very much you and I may be something like this 7 month old who is seeing her Daddy face to face for the very first time. Oh, as we encounter the Christ child this Christmas, it is most likely not for the first time for many, but that will surely be so for some. Still, we do so in the days to come in a way we do not every day.
Indeed, this is why we gather around this story, these promises again this season. We come together not so much as parents looking to hold a child for the first time, but as those searching for the face of God in one so innocent and small. In fact, I have come to know this is something we all yearn for — this encounter with the Christ child. I heard it Sunday morning again as we gathered around crèche with the children, adding in the animals and the angels one by one by one. Through it all, one little guy kept repeating, “But where is baby Jesus?” It did not appease him much at all when I told him if he just comes back on Tuesday, baby Jesus would be there!
So I expect this Christmas perhaps we are all a little like Brian — yearning with all of our hearts to hold God’s precious gift for us for the first time.
And I expect we are a little like a seven month old baby girl — still trying to sort out who this one is for us.
And yet, I do wonder, too, if maybe God is also like the daddy in this picture now. In the form of his very human son, coming to us and as we embrace him, we recognize that we have been embraced by him first as he comes to us and scoops us up into his strong arms and gently holds us each and every one. And yes, I have to wonder if maybe God is not overcome by emotion, too, as Brian surely was in those first moments with his baby girl — at the simple wonder of being so very close. Oh yes, I wonder if that’s not exactly how God felt when he sent Jesus to us so long ago and every single time he comes to us again in ways mysterious and true.
Indeed, I can’t help but believe that all three may be so. What do you think?