Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Advent Sunday and Holy Baptism

Year A,  Romans 1: 1-7
Baptism of Amelia Pearl and Emma Rose Blackmon

What a great morning indeed.  Excitement building for Christmas ahead, just a few days now.  The rich texture of this season in all its beauty and meaning.  Leaning forward from Advent to Christmas, Fourth Candle on the Advent Wreath, approaching Bethlehem City Limits.  And of course as we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child there is also something tender in us stirred up about all the ways God comes to visit us in the midst of our lives, in the midst of this strange and challenging world.

That sense that in the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation every atom and molecule in the vast expanse of all the created order is infused with a spiritual blessing.  And perhaps every child is in some way for us an icon of this.  Pure gift.  Remembering God’s word to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”  And the echo almost exactly from Psalm 139, “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

So dear Brian and Megan, Pat, Vikki, Brendan, family and friends.  I just need to get personal for a little bit.    It seems to me in some ways like fifteen minutes ago that we were here for that great wedding day.  Five years.  May 17, 2008.   So much joy.  Beauty.  If you don’t mind me quoting from my sermon for the service that afternoon, in reference to the reading you selected from the 8th Chapter of the Song of Solomon, the 7th verse: Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.   I said to you then, to quote:  

It’s a beautiful phrase, in the midst of what I think is one of the loveliest of all the readings appointed for the celebration of Holy Matrimony. This gorgeous love song, the lover to her beloved. And so richly . . . filled with the certainty of a commitment that you intend to be deep and lasting, strong enough to survive and flourish no matter what storms may come. For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health.  And of course that is for all of us what we stand for . . .,  as we stand with you.   There are for every family, in every life, so many twists and turns of the path, so many mountains to climb. Days of great joy, to be sure, but also days of challenge, days of sadness and loss. And we stand today with you in the confidence of your love and commitment, your patience and tenderness, as you hang in together, as you grow through all the changes of life, committed to growing more deeply together day by day.”   

Close quote.  Five years, or fifteen minutes ago.

And it seems also just like fifteen minutes ago when we sat and prayed together down in Baltimore in that trauma care unit after the horror of your automobile accident.  A moment when life was hanging by a thread in so many ways.  And I so vividly remember thinking all through that time, Meghan, of the light of your wedding day, and wondering, placing all of that in God’s loving arms, as you know the whole of this congregational family had you wrapped in prayer and with so many tears and so much love.  Wondering what this was all about.  How to make sense of it.  Those first days.  And then the long months and years of work ahead, therapy and rehab.  Learning to live in a new way.

But to know in each of those moments, in each of those moments, a mystery to us, but in God’s heart this moment too.  Amelia Pearl, Emma Rose.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”

So here this morning.  A season when we celebrate the birth of the Child who is our Savior, so also to pause again and again, at the birth of these two precious little girls, also a miracle in so many ways, signs of generosity and God’s abundant grace and mercy.   A loving intention far beyond our understanding.  

hope you heard those words in the introductory sentence of Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Grace to you and peace.  In Jesus.  Healing, forgiveness, transformation, new life.  Certainly I can’t think of any more beautiful affirmation and confirmation than this.  As we splash around in the font of old St. Andrew’s Church.  (This same font by the way where Mommy Meghan, six years old, was baptized on November 11, 1984, and Godfather, Uncle Brendan, you were here first on June 15, 1975.  Pat and Vikki, I’m sure both those days probably seem like 15 minutes ago too.)  New birth, new life in Christ Jesus.

In Romans Paul is writing to introduce himself to the Christians in the Capital City of the World.  And in these introductory words of the first chapter Paul says something about himself and about the Roman Christians that I want to pause over and highlight.  First of all, he tells them how he understands his own vocation and ministry, from the day he was knocked off his horse on the Road to Damascus.  “Through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name.”  And then this word about the Romans, reminding them about what is the most important thing they can know about themselves: “including yourselves, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

“Called to belong to Christ Jesus.”  We talk all the time about vocation.  A lot of vocational language in the baptismal service.   A great reminder about who we are, each and every one of us, in Christ Jesus.    Wonder what these girls are going to be like as they grow up?  What interests, gifts, activities will be important to them?  What God has in mind for them.  Perhaps one will be the doctor who finds the cure for cancer.  Perhaps the other will be the first woman to play third base on a Major League team.   (And for the Pirates, not the Nationals!)   Perhaps most importantly of all one or the other of them will someday follow in her Grandfather Patrick’s footsteps and serve as Junior Warden of St. Andrew’s Church!  

But Paul reminds us here of the first vocation of baptism, the vocation we all share, everyone here this morning, and the one calling that is above every calling, prior to every work and activity and profession and choice of life.  The foundation really for them.  To be “called to belong to Jesus.”  We can only begin truly to know who we are, when we first know whose we are.

The Baby is born in this world not so that he can be ours, but because through his work on the Cross we are his.  He knows us, calls us, makes us his own.   His possession, his treasure, each one of us—Amelia and Emma—precious in his sight.  The sheep of his pasture. These girls today are splashed with water and blessed and marked as Christ’s own forever.  Received into his arms.  No great triumph and accomplishment in their lives will ever top that.  And no hard fall, no challenge, no life disaster, will ever be able to take away this gift.  Which is not about something they have, but about who they are, whose they are.

What a day to celebrate.  Christmas Eve is practically here.  Stars shining bright in the Bethlehem sky.  Angels and blessings in abundance, as we each know again this morning that we are called, we are called, from before time and forever, to belong to Christ Jesus our Lord.

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