The Advent Word for today is 'embrace'.

That word 'embrace' made me think of the parable of the prodigal and his brother. This is a short, but multi-layered story told by Jesus. The younger son had left home and squandered the inheritance his father had generously given him. When the 'prodigal' had lost it all and feared he would die of hunger, in desperation he began to return home. He planned to confess to his father how he had wronged him and sinned against heaven. His best hope was for his father to hire him as a servant. The prodigal knew he was 'no longer worthy' to be called his father's child.

Many artists have portrayed the moment when the father, having seen his son while he was still far off, rushed out to embrace him and welcome him home as his much loved son. The image at the head of this post is by the 17th century painter Leonella Spada. Another painting of the father's embrace that I especially love is the one by Rembrandt. In 'Lost and Found' I wrote a reflection on the father's hands in that painting, using thoughts of Henri Nouwen from his book 'The Return of the Prodigal'.

Here is how the gospel of Luke describes that moment of the welcoming, forgiving embrace:
"But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him."
Luke 15: 20

What about the prodigal's brother, the one who'd stayed dutifully at home? You can read his response in Luke 15: 25 - 32. Both sons were in need of their father's embrace. It was there for each of them, but only one (the repentant returner) was in a state to receive and appreciate it.

What has all this got to do with the season of Advent? If Advent is partly a preparation for Christmas, a season of goodwill, who needs a hug from you and from whom do you need to receive a hug? At this time many people make various 'travelling home' journeys, not always sure what sort of welcome they will receive. The generous father in Jesus' story of the prodigal son gives a human picture of the all-embracing love of God, who comes rushing out to meet us where we are, worthy or not.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain