I'm cruising on the river of life, happy to trust the flow, enjoying the ride as I live into a new season of life and ministry as the Priest in Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, MO. I am also co-founder of the Partnership for Renewal, a church vitality nonprofit. You are most welcome to visit my blog anytime and enjoy the ride with me. Peace.
Saturday, December 25, 2021
Christmas Day & Baptism, 2021-C: Extravagant love
Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2: 1-20
En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en Unidad. Amen.
As a former marketer, I love a good TV commercial. One of my all-time favorite commercial series was called “Frogs (Boys night in).” It came out about a decade ago but the tagline echoes in my thoughts today, especially today as we prepare to Baptize Amelia.
In this commercial, you see a picture of some men playing cards as a voice is saying, “There was a time when poker night was what you looked forward to all week.” Then the picture changes to one of those men holding his baby on his couch., and the voice says, “So who’d have ever thought boys’ night out wouldn’t hold a candle to boys’ night in? Having a baby changes everything.”
The biggest thing to ever happen in the history of human experience came to us as a baby. Born to a poor, young peasant woman, in a barn in a remote village in the Middle East - this baby changed everything, forevermore.
Sometimes, the Christmas story is so familiar, so sanitized that we forget the harsh reality of it. Mary and Joseph traveled 90 miles to register as a family in Bethlehem according to the law. She was 9 months pregnant… On a donkey… for 90 miles….
When they finally get to Bethlehem Joseph’s people turned them away claiming there was no room in their guest quarters. Since Mary was pregnant before she and Joseph had married, it’s likely they were sent in their shame to the barn, and Mary’s baby had to be born among the animals. Nothing was sterilized. No one came to help them or feed them.
It must have been so scary for them.
But then… there he was. The baby conceived by the overshadowing of God was born. They swaddled him so he felt safe, talked to him so he didn’t feel alone, and Mary fed him so he could be content and sleep.
Mary, who was probably only 14 years old, had to figure out how to nurse her newborn. As most mothers know, newborn babies don’t always latch at first and we often need help getting that going. Joseph had to make sure the afterbirth was delivered completely so Mary didn’t bleed to death, and how many of us would know how to intervene with an afterbirth hemorrhage?
It must have been so lonely for them. I hope there was a quiet moment, after the baby Jesus was born, cleaned, nursed, and resting that Mary and Joseph could revel in what just happened. They knew that this baby was about to change everything.
But I wonder, don’t all babies change everything – in that ‘flutter of a butterfly wing affecting global weather systems’ kind of way? It may be inaccurate science, but it’s good theology. Every one of us is born with a divine purpose. We are unique and uniquely gifted by God and sent into the world to discover and fulfill that purpose.
It’s why our faith community matters so much. When we baptize someone, we are welcoming them into a community that will love them, notice their gifts and passions, nourish them, train them up, then trust them to use those gifts in service to God and God’s people.
The primary role of a faith community is to promote, embody, and increase the establishment of love: God’s love for us, our love for one another, and our love for ourselves, in all our diversity, knowing God created us exactly as we are and has a purpose for us.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “If you know how much God is in love with you, you can’t help but live your life radiating that love.” It’s our goal as Christians to live our lives like that.
Luke says an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds in the fields and told them of the birth of the Savior. For most of us, this brings to our minds a sweet, pastoral image of men sitting on the grass watching over their sheep who graze peacefully unaware. The reality, however, was a little different. Shepherds were generally scorned as shiftless and were sometimes hated because they would graze their flocks on other people’s land without permission. They didn’t bathe much so they didn’t smell good and people typically just avoided them. In addition, these particular shepherds were the lowest of the low… working the graveyard shift.
But God, who sees differently than the world does, chose these lowly shepherds to be the first humans to hear the good news that the Messiah of the world had been born in Bethlehem. The shepherds rushed off to find this child, then ran home to tell everyone they knew about it “…and all who heard it were amazed.”
They must have radiated their good news because everyone who saw them was astounded by what they heard. What if we radiated our Good News the way they did?
Angels don’t need to come and tell us about Jesus anymore because he lives in us. The good news of Christmas is not just an ancient story we remember together, it’s a truth we live today. Christ is born in us, dwells in us, heals and loves through us - now - and baptizing a baby on this day is the perfect manifestation of that truth.
New life, actual new life, is being baptized today in the extravagant love of God in Christ by her loving family in the presence of her loving faith community – and that is the radical truth of Christmas: extravagant love.
On that first Christmas, God took the form of the smallest and the least - a baby who changed everything. Today, we have the joy and privilege of welcoming Amelia, into the Christian family, in the sacrament of Baptism, whereby she will be marked as Christ’s own forever. May her life, her love change everything.
(The Celebrant invites the candidate for Baptism to the font).