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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Arms of Christ Outstretched this Christmas

Mary sees in the face of her child the tears of God and the joy of humanity. Hungrily having clung with unquenchable thirst to her breast in our cold darkness, in every challenge she sees Him ready to teach us how to cling to Him in faith. He at once envelops us in the abyss of his love when we see how He allowed her to wrap Him in swaddling clothes. At home with the poor and all those for whom there is no room in society, she ponders how He leads us to our true home in the bosom of the Trinity. She has always welcomed these unfamiliar gifts with awe, adoration, and selfless acts of mercy. Her example lights the way for us to discover how to rejoice in these troubled times. When we consider the arms of the Virgin Mother carefully holding the Savior, we behold how our own hospitality to Him must include complete acceptance of His power to deliver us from sin and death. As she rejoiced to be redeemed by His blood in a singular way, each of us must learn to humbly lay before Him the burden of guilt that He has come to take away so that we might rejoice as well. Confessing our sins with holy sorrow and rendering to Him an act of thanksgiving, we too hold Him in our own arms. Lifting up our hearts with prayers that are right and just, we too learn to listen to his vulnerable cry. If we will look into his eyes, we will see that, with great joy and eagerness, He has come in poverty, like a beggar. He hopes that we might let go of our pain and trust Him with it. He wants us to be completely free to love—and He does not want us to torment ourselves over failure and inadequacy. He yearns to be welcomed and held with confidence in love and for love. His arms remain as outstretched to us this Christmas as they were to Mary that first Christmas, and the joy she knew through her devotion to Him could be ours—by this simple movement of trust, the choice to respond to His tender presence.

In Mary we know that the God who weeps as a baby is discovered by the heart who says "yes" to this gift of divine joy. This peculiar paradox is an encounter of suffering humanity against divine humility, the doom of death against the surprise of life ever-lasting, the limits of human evil against limitlessness of God's goodness, of earthly poverty against heavenly riches, of ignorance of men against the foolishness of God, of deserved condemnation against incalculable forgiveness, of darkness against the Light, of the Word against silence, of human emptiness against divine fullness. Because Mary pondered all these things, we know that the conflict of these extremes is only resolved by an adoration of the heart, a loving acceptance the mystery of the Word become flesh dwelling among us. This simple movement, this humble contemplation, this willingness to be inconvenienced by God who smiles at us in our neighbor, makes us like her vulnerable to angels' voices, and heavenly signs, and shepherds' wonder, and the homage of wisemen.

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