Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
January 6, 2019
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I have on my office wall a simple wooden cross adorned with “milagros.” These small silver symbols include an arm, a book, a donkey and a pregnant woman, hair in a pony tail, with the figure of the unborn child stamped on her belly. I love the symbolism of milagros anyway, their visual, emotive invocation of the divine on behalf of a very human need, but the woman holds special significance today. The silver emblem is a prayer on behalf of a woman facing the perils of childbirth. The faith that purchased it and tacked it to this simple cross, consciously places a child in divine hands, even before it is born. How many of us have found that our children drive us to our knees? Children and God are a great combination.
Children and God have had a close relationship throughout the history of our Christian tradition. When you go back to our roots in the Jewish tradition, we find God taking an interest in children before they were born. Isaac is promised as the child of the Covenant between God and Abraham. Great prophets are marked as special as children before they were born or at birth: Moses, Samson, Samuel, for starters. Children of prophets were often given special, symbolic names. The most pertinent to this season is the child predicted by Isaiah (most likely his own son,) named Immanuel: God with us, a name taken up for Jesus as the final fulfillment of that oracle.
Turning to our Christian tradition, Jesus liked children, to be sure. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Jesus blessing little children, and rebuking his disciples for trying to keep them away. Jesus healed children, raised them from the dead, and delivered them from demonic oppression. But the story at the heart of Christmas is of course, the greatest God-child story of the Christian faith. A child is sent to us; a baby is born to us, and, as we saw in today’s Gospel lesson, this child is so special that really important people from another country have come to see him. God doesn’t just like children, in this child we have come to see God with us all.
I think we all know, down deep inside somewhere, that if we enter the Kingdom as children, it has something to do with remembering things adults have forgotten, knowing things adults have unlearned, and keeping things simple when adults have too often made them complicated. Part of that conviction is embodied in the practice of baptizing children. Part of it has to do with how we believe God feels about children.
This morning we bring a child to the waters of baptism. Little Kaiden has been part of our worship since he was a very small baby. Seeing him crawl, then toddle, then walk and run around the nave has become part of our common life. I’ll always remember the moment several months ago when he stood in the line of the altar party at communion time. As I made my way around the circle his little hands came up to receive a wafer. I looked at his grandmother, who looked at me pleadingly, with tears welling up in her eyes. I looked in his eyes, and they weren’t pleading, they were confident. They were simply, trustingly confident. They reminded me of so many times when my children were small, when it was obvious that they remembered things adults have largely forgotten, they knew things adults have mostly unlearned, and that for them it was simple in the face of our complicated explanations. I gave him a wafer.
This morning we’re recognizing officially what God has already been doing in this child’s life. This child’s presence is a gift directly from the heart of God. This child’s confidence in God’s house is evidence of adult guidance, yes, but also of a simple response deep within to the divine. Now we take responsibility for our part in this picture. We step up to the plate as the body of believers among whom this little one will grow in stature and in faith. Now we invoke the Holy Spirit, who is already present, to birth this young one spiritually in our midst, and to grant forgiveness of sins. Birth and Bath. It’s all really quite simple. I think it is naive to think that little ones don’t understand. At moments like this I believe they remember things we have forgotten, know things we have unlearned, and approach with simplicity things we tend to complicate unnecessarily.
We do so as a baptized people. We recognize in this child the same high calling we all have. It is a calling to which we are about to give voice in the words of the Baptismal Covenant:
• First, the Apostle’s Creed, the most ancient creed of the Church, most likely developed for baptisms;
• Then the Five Promises, that outline the Christian life practice:
o Faithfulness in worship
o Morality in life
o Evangelism in word and deed
o Service in the name of Christ,
o And engagement in the struggle for justice and peace in the world.
This is the high calling of every Christian. It is not just for clergy for monks and nuns. It is not just for scholars or special people. It is not a high, unreachable standard that only Jesus really achieved. It is the covenant between God and us to live as a Christian people. This child looks to us to teach him, guide him and nurture him along the way, and we look to him to teach us what we’ve forgotten, unlearned and complicated.
As this congregation goes through changes in the coming months this remains the bottom line. We step up to the plate for Kaiden, and for everyone who strives for the ideal of God’s dream for the world. We step up to the plate for ourselves. We are the Christ Child’s presence in the world today. We, too, are specially chosen by God. We have a special work to do in the world, making God known as we have known God in Christ. Who knows, maybe wise men will come to visit us, too!