free hugs

The year was 2005…at least I think it was. And my wife and I were attending a youth conference in good ‘ol Nashville, TN. We were returning to the exhibit hall after lunch and had some take-out from the restaurant with us when we saw a homeless man on the sidewalk. I approached him and asked him if he might like my half-sandwich and fries and he was very grateful for it and then he asked if he might give us a hug. How could we refuse him? He then proceeded to hug my wife and I for no less than 3 or 4 minutes. It really was rather uncomfortable for the both of us…my wife really isn’t a hugger. But there we were, caught up in this embrace that for a moment made us feel incredibly uncomfortable, incredibly vulnerable and incredibly human. We both came away wondering how long it had been since that man had received any human contact and it floored both of us to think that it might have been ages since he received a hug.

I don’t know how many of you reading this frequent concerts and/or musical festivals. I myself really enjoy them, I just can’t always afford to go. But there was this weird phenomena that started to occur around the turn of the millennium that kind of creeped me out at first. You would see people walking around with signs that simply read ‘free hugs’. And people would walk up to them or visa versa and receive a free hug. Sometimes these would be full on huge embraces and other-times quick little side hugs but it just seemed to me to be the weirdest thing until I understood the power of an embrace.

You see, there is this amazing focal point in the Christian story that is central to who we are that I think we miss sometimes. The writer of the book of John puts it this way, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14 The most basic and fundamental truth of the good news that we as Christians base our entire existence around is that God became like us and lived with us to show us love. Divine love was best exhibited by God putting on flesh and living among us. We have a fancy word for this in the church and that word is ‘incarnation’. The greatest way that God knew to show us his amazing love and grace was to put on flesh and live with us…be with us…share space with us…

This morning I was given a simple reminder of the power of a hug. Without word, warning or invitation my 5-yr-old daughter walked up and gave me a big hug. In that moment I was reminded of the fact that there is something so powerful and assuring about the touch and presence of another. I reminded our church last week of our role as “Christ’ ambassadors” in the world today and I think that if we truly ’embrace’ this calling we might find ourselves handing out a lot more hugs and being present with a lot more people. We really never know what people are going through, what kind of assurances or judgments they are receiving in life or what things are weighing heavy on them. And truthfully, you never know what a hug might do.

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