God Has Bared His Arm

By Kevin Block

After Mass last Sunday, a young man came into my office and closed the door. He rolled up his sleeves, bared his arms, and showed me his tattoos. He wanted me to see them. He wanted me to see the tattoos on his bare arms. On his right bicep, he showed me a cross with the name of his late mother. On his left bicep, he showed me an encircling crown-like tattoo that represented strength — his own strength. The tattoos were impressive, and let me say that his biceps were also impressive.

My visit with this young man was an interesting coincidence because I had recently heard a sermon by Bishop Robert Barron about God Almighty baring his arm before the eyes of the world. And now here was this young man in my office baring his arms before my eyes, and wanting me to see.

And that is what our Christmas Scriptures are about. Isaiah says, “The Lord has bared his holy arm.” Psalm 98 says, “His own right hand and his holy arm have won for him the victory.” Furthermore, both verses emphasize that God’s arm was bared so that people could see it. Isaiah 52:10 says, “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” God bares his arm to show how strong he is.

Truth be told, there is something intimidating about this image. Honestly, there’s something a little intimidating about a young man, whom I had never met, wanting to show me his bulging biceps behind closed doors. But that’s nothing, compared to God showing off his bared arms and almighty muscles. That’s the image in today’s Scriptures: Almighty God is rolling up his sleeves and this is clearly meant as a show of strength.

But please notice that both Scriptures are cheerful, not fearful. There is no suggestion of anything to fear. There is no hint of intimidation. In fact, when God Almighty bares his arm, according to these Scriptures, most of us should break into joyful victory songs. That is, there’s nothing to fear and everything to sing about if we are on God’s side or want to be on God’s side.

It’s how the Dutch people felt in 1944 when Canadian soldiers invaded with a great show of force. Even though the ground trembled under the roar of Canadian tanks and even though the Canadian troops bristled with every terrible weapon known to man, the Dutch people felt safer than they had in years because the presence of the Canadians meant the end of Nazi occupation. They sang, they cheered, they danced for joy. They were not afraid now that their Canadian liberators had arrived with great strength. And that’s the same joy the people feel in today’s Scriptures when God bares his liberating arm.

But for the bad guys it’s a different message. The bare arm of the Lord is a definite threat to them, and more than a threat. God is so powerful that the defeat of the bad guys is a sure thing. God’s really going to cut them down, and the rest of us won’t have to be afraid anymore. Won’t that be a great day! Won’t we be singing and dancing! Won’t that be a better world when the gangsters and bullies, the bosses from hell and terrible tyrants of history aren’t running the show anymore! Won’t that be a great day for those of us who can’t compete with violence, and have no wish to compete with any form of aggressive behavior! Lord, hasten the day when those who mourn will be comforted, the meek will inherit the earth, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.

That day will come, but meanwhile we are in a time of surprising reprieve. Christmas is a reprieve. Look at today’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint John. In a few loaded sentences, it tells the story of God coming to us in human flesh. We should be shocked by this because God is pure spirit. God is nothing like a human. God is nothing like any creature. Those earlier Old Testament scriptures talked about the bare arm of the Lord, but that was just symbolic language. God doesn’t have arms. God doesn’t have muscles. God doesn’t need any of that. God is omnipotent.

But at the first Christmas, God the Son took on humanity: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Now God had arms — real arms — but those were the frail arms of a baby, and then they were the weary arms of a humble carpenter, and later they were the arms of an accused criminal nailed to a cross.

Christmas is a reprieve, a temporary truce. Now God appeals to us in weakness. The baby born in Bethlehem is God’s appeal to one and all to renounce evil and every attitude and action that hurts others. In baby Jesus, God appeals to us in the flesh, with real arms outstretched toward us, beseeching us to surrender to the love of God.

Someday God will bare his arm, so to speak, and pulverize the forces of evil. But for now, with the arms of Jesus, he appeals to us with love and love alone.

The Rev. Kevin Block is a retired priest of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Niagara.


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