A God with Arms
In her book, Breathing Space, Lutheran pastor, Heidi Neumark tells a story that will probably sound remarkably familiar to most parents and grandparents. It is a story about her four-year-old son, Hans, who had a question he kept on asking.
Heidi writes: “He used to ask me about heaven when I put him to bed. I told Hans everything I knew about heaven, which didn’t take too long. ‘Will we have a body there?’ he wanted to know. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘a new body’. ‘But will we have arms?’ Hans continued. ‘I don’t know’, I answered. ‘We don’t know those kind of details’. ‘But will I have arms?’
“Young children can be quite persistent. Night after night, Hans raised his urgent question, ‘Will we have arms?’ ‘Will we have arms?’ until I wanted to scream: ‘Hans, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, I don’t know if we will have arms, and I don’t care!’ Instead, it finally occurred to me to ask the obvious question. ‘Hans, why do you want arms in heaven?’ He looked at me like I was from another planet. ‘So that Opa and I can hug’. Opa is my father, for whom Hans is named. Christmas is about a God with arms” (Breathing Space, p. 223).
In the Christmas stories told by Matthew and Luke, we meet angels serenading shepherds, a local Inn with a “No Vacancy” sign, a heavy named Herod, magi tracking a star with no GPS, and two very young parents facing childbirth in a borrowed barn. There is absolutely no mention in either Christmas story of a God with arms.
Maybe this is precisely when not only Heidi, but you and I need Hans to help us celebrate Christmas. Maybe the entire Christmas story told by Matthew and Luke and the entire good news shared not only by Matthew and Luke, but also by Mark and John, is all about “a God with arms.” Maybe what we celebrate today and long beyond today is God’s arms reaching down and grabbing this world in a heavenly embrace, an embrace strong enough to cast aside all the protections we put in place to keep us safe from those we call the “other,” strong enough to lift up all those who life has cast aside, strong enough to caress ever so gently those who consider themselves unworthy of anyone’s embrace, much less the embrace of God.
“Christmas is about a God with arms,” says Heidi. Thanks be to God that she is right and many thanks to Hans for the Christmas gift he gave his mom, and through his mom, gives us.
May God’s loving arms hold you now and forever, my friends.