Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Reading I Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 29:1-4, 9-10
Reading II Acts 10:34-38
Gospel Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
“You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, and with you I am well pleased.” We celebrate baptisms by the thousands across the world. When you and I were baptized those same words were spoken and God said to us, “You are mine, and if you follow me, you will please me to no end.”
Depending on the age here of people, in the last hundred years there was a time in the church that if you were born today you would have been baptized the very next day. For some of us here there is another span in the church when every child was to be baptized within two weeks of his or her birth. Today in our culture where people are scattered across the world, usually the baptism takes place within six months after birth. You might ask, “Why were infants baptized the day after they were born?” For the very simple reason that there were not the medical facilities that we have today and most babies were born at home. So just to make sure, the godparents were to bring the child to the church immediately so the child could be baptized.
If you’ve ever been a godmother or a godfather, you might wonder why we have godparents? There is a very simple reason and that is because in the past the mothers could not get to church that soon after giving birth at home. And so the godmother and godfather were chosen, they would come to the house, pick up the child, bring the child to church and after the baptism bring the child back home. My mother did not witness my baptism or my brother’s baptism. Today it’s a rare experience that the parents, grandparents, and the entire family are not in church celebrating that moment. It doesn’t make any difference how or when it takes place, the important thing is that it takes place.
It might be interesting if everybody stood up and shared how many children there are in your family. My parents would take me to Greenmount Cemetery because my grandmother on my Mom’s side had seven children but only five lived. My Mom always wanted me to know, and my brother, that these two babies died at birth. They were named but they didn’t live. Today many moms have miscarriages and many children are stillborn. And so the experience of life is really in the hands of God, it’s not in our hands. I can’t tell, or can a couple know, “You’re going to have four children and here are their birthdates so you can get all set.” It doesn’t work that way.
Every child will come in God’s time, and every one of us will leave in God’s time. Sometimes we struggle with that, you and I like to be God. “I’m here in church this morning and I’m telling you, God, something’s going to happen on Thursday and God — it better turn out all right. And I’m here praying.” And God says, “I’m glad you are here, and just keep on praying and I guarantee you that whatever you are concerned about is going to turn out just fine, but it’s not going to turn out according to your plans. It’s going to turn out according to my plans. I’m God, remember that. You’re not God.”
So whenever we baptize a child in this font, or in any church in the world, we surrender that child to God, and every mom and dad is saying, “God, you blessed us. And we are giving this child back to you. We don’t know what you are going to do with this child. We are just going to give the child back to you and we ask that you bless us as parents that we will, as promised, pass on the faith.”
However, when we talk about the baptism of our Lord it is a little bit different — same baptism, takes away all sin, but in Jesus’s case he became the Son of God and so we hear those words, “You are my beloved Son and with you I am well pleased because you have allowed your cousin John to baptize you.” Jesus didn’t go around saying, “I’m the Son of God, I don’t have to be baptized, but all of you people do.” He said, “No.” He came to John and John said, “I’m not worthy to do this.” And Jesus said, “Don’t argue. Just baptize me.” And the gates opened up and the world has never been the same.
So we have to ask, “What is baptism?” When a mom and dad holds their child for the first time and gazes at that baby weighing just a few pounds they say, “Oh, Man. Thank you, God.” And God says, “And I’m well pleased with you. This is your son or daughter and this son or daughter, along with any other children you have, I promise you that they will change your lives forever.”
Those of you who are gifted to be parents, you know that. Because you love your children, they challenge you, and you change every second, every moment. But the children also change every second and every moment — because you love them. When a child is blessed to be in a loving home there is a bond that is created there. When all of us were teen-agers, sometimes our parents would say, “Well, I don’t think our kids love us anymore.” But they do and the children know, “Where would I be without the people who are there for me twenty-four seven?” And then it comes around that when mom and dad can no longer take care of themselves, then the world goes back to thanksgiving and we take care of our parents. And that’s the beauty of death. We give our parents back to God. We see that cycle and it never stops and it won’t stop and it’s all centered around that whole experience of baptism.
I was asking the children the other day, and I’ll pass the question on to you and silently you can answer and pass or fail, “Who are your mom and dad?” The reason I ask the kids this question is because I want to know if they know their mom’s maiden name? I also ask, “Who were your godparents? In what church were you baptized? Who was the priest who baptized you, or the deacon?” It is amazing that quite often many people answer, “Well, I really don’t know.” That’s where passing the faith is so important so that each child will know.
When I was able to remember, I knew that I was baptized at St. Rose, I knew that Father Fox baptized me, I knew that my aunt and uncle were my godparents, I knew that I was baptized within two weeks, and I knew that my mom was not there. That was just put in the psyche of my life. So we have to pause this morning and say, “God, you know, if someone had not brought me to some church to be baptized, chances are I wouldn’t be sitting here. But I’m here, and I’ve had a life of faith and not only through baptism — but when I’ve been able to receive Eucharist I realize that there is more to this bread and wine that I ever realized.”
Many will remember that in past years when you came to church to participate in the Eucharist you couldn’t drink the wine, you could only receive the body of Christ. And when the church changed and allowed everyone to come forth and receive the precious blood and the body of Christ it’s like, “Wow. What a gift!” What greater gift could God give to us than to receive his body and blood?
We also are confirmed, and when we are confirmed it’s bringing to fulfillment the baptism. In the early church you were baptized, confirmed and received Eucharist at the same time, and that’s why when we initiate adults today they are baptized, confirmed and receive Eucharist at the same time. And maybe in our lifetime we will see that change and the church will go back and all three sacraments will be given at once. It’s the full initiation into the community of faith and the full gift of love coming into each and every person.
So this morning think about the day your parents had you baptized, or when you came on your own to be baptized as an adult — and how that spirit of God is intertwined day in and day out in our lives — and how in the quiet of our own prayer life we hear those words, “You are my son and daughter, and with you I am well pleased.”
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0028)