(Photo of newborn infant clutching father's hand courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Daily Episcopalian, December 25, 2011)
Readings for December 25, 2011:
Psalm 85 (Morning)
Psalm 110:1-5 (6-7)
Psalm 132 (Evening)
Micah 4:1-5, 5:2-4
1 John 4:7-16
The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.--John 3:35 (NRSV)
Our readings for Christmas Day are rich in physical imagery today, with Micah referring to "the mouth of the Lord" and physical acts of peace performed with human hands, such as beating swords into plowshares, and sitting contentedly under fig trees. These acts performed by human hands are the prelude to our Gospel image that the world and everything in it truly exists in God's hands, through Christ, despite all our best human efforts. We've sung it thousands of times, right? "He's got the whole world in his hands."
The metaphor of hands is perhaps one of the most powerful ones we humans have going for us--we've all heard the insurance commercial where we are told we are in good hands (provided we purchased their insurance, of course.) We use phrases like "pass the baton" or "hand it off to you" to describe transference of authority or power. When we are in the midst of an unfolding tragedy, and don't know anything else to say, we often blurt out "Well, it's in God's hands now," in the hope that this image can be a comfort--the image of a God with hands big enough to hold all of what seems to be spilling out from between our own fingers at an alarming rate.
Isn't it interesting, though, that what we do in Advent, that culminates on Christmas, is we have been doing all this preparation with our hands in order to let go?
We make cookies and wrap presents to give away.
We prepare delicious meals to pass them around the table and enjoy others being full and satisfied.
But most importantly, we prepare once again for a wondrous birth and take all that we are and all that we hope us and the world to be--and pass it into the hands of an infant.
What kind of fool takes something that important, and hands it off to a baby?
Baby hands are fascinating little things--and what I've noticed is there are two things where one can count on for a baby to grasp like there's no tomorrow. Babies hold on for dear life to the things that feed them, and the people whom they love. I never fail to be amazed at how tightly a baby can hold onto my shirt (or, unfortunately, my glasses.)
No doubt--the transformations in our lives happen, not from our careful preparation, but from the act of letting go. Oh, the preparation is important--very important--but it's the letting go that changes us. We prepare for the birth of babies to prepare for the day somewhere around their 18th year, to watch them leave for college, the military, or a job. We spend lifetimes with those we love to prepare for them to leave us in death. We make plans for our lives to let go of them in disappointment or tragedy...and on Christmas Day, we place everything in the hands of a baby to take us on a journey to the cross, where those beautiful little hands will be pierced with nails. We will rejoice mightily to see the return of those hands in Easter, but they return with the holes still in them--in solidarity with our own humanity and the wounds life has dealt us.
Today, Christmas Day, is the day that we hand it all off to the seemingly too-tiny hands of a baby. May we feel those hands grasp our own fingers today with a grip that says, "I'll never let you go."