For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.---John 3:16
Subways are not a place for secrets. Hurtling through man-made tunnels at what feels like roller-coaster speeds, there is still an amazing amount of time for piecing together stories from bits of information overheard en route.
This particular day, there was more time than usual because the Boston subway car I was riding in was stopped. Seated behind me was a burly man in a mechanic's jacket that was heavily stained by engine oil. Next to him was a young boy I guessed to be about twelve. In the silence of the stopped train, everyone could hear everything they said.
Father: (Huge sigh) "How could you embarrass me like that?"
Young boy: (Total silence; no response.)
Father: (Rolled head, rolled eyes, another big sigh) "I mean it. How could you do that to me?"
Young boy: (Still no response from the boy.)
Father: "Answer me!" (The father is now speaking loudly, and to my ear, he's started to sound like he might explode in anger.) "I want an answer and I want it right now!" (These words were said in a shout, and the father seemed oblivious to the rest of us in the car. )
Incredibly, the young boy still doesn't answer his father. His face and body language don't seem to be belligerent; he just looks like he's afraid and doesn't know what to say. I'm getting worried because the dad is really big and the boy is really not big. I'm really not big, either, but I'm thinking this doesn't feel like it's going to stop with words.
Then. Something. Incredible. Happened.
Father: (Emits one last long huge sigh followed by a long pause.) "I'm really sorry, son. I don't know what I'm thinking."
Then the father started to cry.
Only then did the young boy speak, and timidly at that. "I'm really scared, Dad." Then he started to cry, too.
They weren't the only two people crying in that downtown subway train that day. Lots of tears appeared among the riders around them.
When I stood up to get off the train as it finally moved to the next stop, that big burly dad was cradling that not so big little boy, hugging him tight as he sat in his dad's lap; and the two of them could care less what the rest of us thought. I remember thinking they must love each other very much.
We humans often dishonor God in ways that must have the angels shaking their heads in disbelief. We also make Him angry, especially when the things that dishonor Him are committed by the very people who tell Him they love Jesus and have accepted His Grace.
Despite our mistakes; despite the hateful, hurtful ways we lash out at other humans; despite how easy we find it to slip back into the pre-salvation defaults, when rebellion was our hallmark---despite all of that---when Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son, He describes how the father raced to greet the broken son. Raced to him!
Indeed, when the world could find no way to restore itself to God, our Heavenly Father raced to greet us, sending Jesus to us as a Baby in a manger.
He must love us very much!
Each of us who find our way to that Baby born so long ago discovers that the journey leads not to a crib or a child but instead to the Father, who gathers us in a loving embrace; one that starts today and never, ever ceases.
It's the greatest gift we'll ever get.