Gospel: Luke 3:15-17 1st Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
2nd Reading: Acts 8:14-17
His parents and grandparents were filled with expectation and his cousins were questioning in their hearts concerning Miles. His brother and sister were questioning who he would be in this new family that was forming. Would he be the peacemaker or the serious one, would he be the trouble-maker or the class clown? Would he be studious or lazy or observant? Would he be quiet or talkative?
And his brothers and sisters in Christ were gathered round, wondering who he would be for the family of God, for the family of believers. Would he be one to run up quickly to the children's message or hang behind? Would he like to bring food for hungry neighbors or help them carry the donations to the car? Would he serve on council or visit those in nursing homes? Would he sing the hymns loudly or quietly ponder their meaning? Would he like the way things had always been done or would he suggest creative adjustments to make worship more meaningful for a new generation? Would he hear the voice of God clearly or search for the still small voice directing him in his choices?
Maybe Miles, too, in his own way wonders about us. “Who are all these people and why are they all looking at me? What is the meaning of all this singing? Why am I not running all over the place with my cousins, right now? Why do we have to be quiet? Are these people going to be helpful to me or make my life harder? What is the meaning of these banners and these carvings? What are these people going to do to me? Why do I keep hearing my name?”
All these questions and all this uncertainty could cause any of us some anxiety. Miles' parents are soothing him. They hold him close so he won't be afraid. The scriptures are soothing us, too. They tell us not to be afraid so we can calmly hear the rest of the story. But also I think all the possibilities open before us create some excitement and anticipation of all the wonderful things God could do through Miles or any of us to whom God is giving new life.
When trying to figure out who any of us is, we can start with an origin story. We might tell the story of the day someone was born, or a story about a parent or a grandparent. These scriptures this morning go back to the very beginning. They remind us of God's faithfulness and God's role as the one who created and loves us and protects us. Such a tender lullaby of comfort and love we find in Isaiah! It is very reassuring. If we are to know who we are, it is important to know who is the one who made us and gives our lives meaning.
However, the scriptures don't stop at the beginning. They don't gloss over the fact that life will be hard. We will pass through the waters. We will encounter fire and flame. We will have troubles. But that won't be what defines us or destroys us, and we'll never be alone when we face hardships.
Miles, too, has no promise of an easy life. He will face fire and rain. He will face heartaches and ailments. He will face disappointments. Even his community of faith will disappoint him and fail him. However, this won't be what defines Miles. He will have many joys in his life and much to celebrate. No matter what happens, he will always belong to God, having been created by God, formed by God, called by God, redeemed by God, and accompanied by God. He will never be alone, because has a loving family, he has a family of faith charged with raising him to know who God is and who he is, and because he now has the whole history of people of faith to look to for inspiration and guidance when he feels lost, real examples of people who tried and failed but who are also loved and claimed by God.
We use water and flame at the baptismal service, elements mentioned in the scriptures today. Water sprinkled on Miles is a tangible sign of all the overwhelming waters he will face, the times he will feel he is drowning and not know what to do. But he will come through these waters like Jesus at his baptism and like Jesus at his death, when he was raised to new life. These waters will also refresh him and clean him and give life to him. He will be given a lit candle, a reminder of the fire of the Holy Spirit that descended upon the heads of the Disciples at Pentecost, but also using the words about letting his light shine. Fire has the power to destroy but also the ability to provide warmth and cook food and provide light to see.
I mention this about the community of faith letting him down, because I think that is part of what is meant by original sin. It isn't that something is wrong with this baby that he has to be cleansed, but that this world is full of problems, full of sin, and he is going to be affected by it. When we let him down, he's going to need to know where he comes from, that he was created God by a loving God. He's going to need to learn about forgiveness—forgiving himself, God's forgiveness, forgiving others. What better place than a community of faith, where we have the example of Jesus forgiving all who betrayed him and one of our main jobs is forgiveness. Some have called the church, the community of faith a “Forgiveness Laboratory.” This isn't a place we presume to be better than others. This is a place where we know and love each other enough that we can admit our mistakes and failures to each other, knowing that we can learn and grow from them and that we will be forgiven and given another chance to try again. And this is a place where we can let someone know if they have upset us or hurt us and where we can let ourselves love and trust again, we can let go and forgive and go on loving. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful tools we cultivate in our community of faith, and one of the most beautiful things we can experience in life whether we are the giver or the receiver.
We wonder at this time who Miles will be, but the truth is, he is now a child of God. God knows and loves him now. Miles doesn't have to wait to know the presence and love of God. That's part of the reason we baptize infants in our church. Miles will likely have many opportunities in his life to seek God or run from God, to accept or reject God. He is simultaneously saint and sinner like all of us. But this day is about God's direction. God is always moving in Miles' direction, always moving toward God's children. Baptism is about God moving toward us, claiming us, reminding us who we belong to, reminding us to move toward each other in love.
Look around at one another. We might think we know each other pretty well. However, we are given new life each day through our baptism. Each day is another chance to start again. Allow yourselves to wonder who are these people and who are they becoming? Take a look at your own life. Many of us are resigned to the fact that this is who we are and who we will be. This is what our life will be like. Nothing will ever change. We have as much possibility in our lives as a little child, because of God's love. God loves us as we are now. And God wants more for us. God is excited about all the possibilities—the people we will love, the help we will give others, the forgiveness we will find, the truth we will live. Those opportunities and choices are available to us now. New life is waiting for us—the new life that comes for us when we act on our beliefs and the new life that opens up for others when God works through us to make this world more just and loving toward all God's children.
My son has just entered a very curious stage. It isn't asking “Why?” a thousand times to drive us crazy, it is a genuine curiosity about this world and the way things work. I started writing some of them down yesterday. “Will I be taller than daddy when I am big enough to drive? Will our ceiling fan run out of batteries? Was I a baby when I was 2 years old? Why do babies have to grow up? What does the cat's nose smell like?” It went on and on and I was really enjoying it. Children teach us to be curious about what has always been that way and what we take for granted. They make us think about how the world works and why. It won't be long until Miles is articulating all these kind of questions. Questions don't need to make us anxious. Hopefully they bring us closer together as we try to understand ourselves and each other and this world God created. Maybe we, too, can learn to have the curiosity of a child, open to understanding this world but also open to new ways of living that help others to thrive.
God loves us as we are now. Yet God is with us in our becoming and in the coming of the Kingdom. Water washes us and gives us another chance to start again, to choose a path that is more live-giving. And fire burns within us when we see injustice, a powerful force to move us forward until the wheat and chaff are separated, until everything inessential and distracting is dismissed and all that is good and lasting and life-giving is gathered together in God's presence.