When I met with your mom and dad to plan your baptism, they told me that you have a thing about getting water in your face. They said you don’t particularly like it. “He’ll not be too upset,” they assured me. “He’ll just turn his head and try to avoid it.” So I sent them home with an assignment to practice with you. I don’t want for your first experience in the Christian Church to be unnecessarily disturbing. And, Gabe, I’ve been practicing too, in my mind at least. I have been thinking that I want to make sure that the water that comes over you, even if it stuns you and takes your breath away, even if it jars you a bit, will run back into the font and not into your face. Because the last thing I want to do is to give you a scratch in your soul that, though you can’t remember it consciously, will on some level make you ever feel that somehow your Christian community or Jesus or God’s Spirit, would do anything at all that would not respect your little body.
The truth is, Gabe, we have been waiting for you all our lives. I don’t mean that, of course, in a literal way. I mean that you come, as does every child and every person, as Jesus himself came to us. You came as a baby. Already you are no longer a baby, but a visibly growing boy. We don’t yet know what your life will bring, or what all the gifts are that you’ll share with us, your family and friends, as a companion on our journey. But just as Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, so you will as well. And little by little we’ll glimpse things like hope, joy, promise, humor, and insight from the things you do and say. It was like that with Jesus, I feel sure. He did not start being wise when he was grown. He did not start being loving or caring or sensitive when he started his public ministry. He, like all of us, grew into what he became from seeds that were planted when he was born and even before he was born. His parents cultivated those seeds, tended them, nurtured them so that in time they would bear fruit. All the while, what they saw coming to life in him was the Life of God. We don’t have many stories—only one really—of Jesus as a boy. It is a story about how his parents got all upset because he stayed behind to talk to the teachers in the Jerusalem Temple while they were making the trip home to Nazareth. He was inquisitive, probing, searching, and interesting. People began to see in him glimpses of what God is like.
So when I say that we have been waiting for you all our lives, I mean that we are always eager to see how God shows up and comes out in a person’s life. Would it happen if we did nothing but just observe you, listen to you, let you alone to be whatever you will be? Perhaps. But most of us, like your parents and godparents, think it is probably a good idea if we give you a little structure, a bit of support, some steady help. We recognize that structure, support, and help are not any better than the degree to which they enable you to be Gabe. So that is why we have come together today to baptize you. We really believe, Gabe, that God’s spirit does live within you, and that by making a place for you in this community of God’s people, that spirit will grow stronger and begin to flourish. Today we are making promises that we will do everything in our power to hold you up as you grow and develop. And we believe that if we do this, you’ll have every opportunity to show us God in the life of Gabe.
And speaking of Gabe, Gabe, it won’t be long before you hear your name in church in another way. If you were a Joseph or a Mary or a Moses or a Daniel, you’d hear your name quite often in stories. But you’ll hear a story along about Christmas time every year that the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee to a girl whose name was Mary. You’ll hear how Gabriel announced to her that she would have a son and that she would name him Jesus. You’ll hear how she had a hard time believing that such a thing could happen, and you’ll hear how Gabriel assured her that nothing was impossible to God. I wonder if you will wonder about the connection between that Gabriel and you. I wonder if you’ll begin to see yourself as someone who, in your own way, does the work of God. I wonder if you’ll begin thinking of yourself as one who announces good news at important moments in people’s lives. I don’t know. But what I do know is that we’ll be here to help you figure out who you are and what you are going to do and how you can live for and with God. And I can tell you that we are going to be very interested in what you tell us. Your story, whatever it is, will be as holy as the Angel Gabriel’s story, as Mary’s story. And you will have a place in the great big story of how God loved the world, and gave his Son to heal and save the world so that everything and everybody could share God’s life and love.
One of those stories in the great story is about a time that a woman encountered Jesus, desperate to get him to heal her little girl who was seriously sick. It is a strange story in many ways, because Jesus at first seemed not to want to help the woman, we are not quite sure why. The easiest explanation is that the woman was “different,” and she seems to have been something of a pest, poor thing. What we know is that the woman stood toe to toe with Jesus and said that even though she came from a different people and spoke with a strange accent and perhaps worshiped in an odd way, she still had a claim on him and his healing power. And what we also know is that Jesus was deeply impressed with the woman’s faith, and promised her that her daughter was whole and well because of the mom’s faith. That story, Gabe, has a lot to do with your baptism, believe it or not. When we take you today and pour that water on you—carefully, Gabe, making sure that it doesn’t get in your face!—you’ll be like that woman, totally at the mercy of the priest, the people, the world, even God. If you were a grown man, you might even put words to it all like, “God, have mercy!” You might feel that life was bigger than you could manage, and that you’d somehow reached the limit of what you could do on your own, that you were like a little toy duck in your bathtub, just bouncing around with nothing to say and hardly anything to do beyond bobbing till someone picked up you and put you back in your place. But at the moment the water touches you, it is like the finger of God connects with you, Gabriel, as the one who is going to announce God’s News. You’ll come alive (maybe with a cry—it often happens) like a black-and-white drawing coming to full color, a still picture coming to animation. You won’t see it and neither will we, but you’ll be as full of God’s life as the Angel Gabriel ever was, as close to God as Mary when she said, “Let it be, let it be,” as much a child of God as Jesus was when at his baptism he heard God say, “You are my son, in whom I am well pleased.”
© Frank Gasque Dunn 2012