God’s Child Now
Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
Dec. 28, 2014
Luke 2:22-40 and Galatians 4:4-7
The birth of a child is an occasion that calls forth family, religious, and social traditions. Announcements are sent; sometimes a rose is placed on the altar or communion table in honor of the child’s birth; in some families a baptismal gown is handed down from generation to generation; parents bring the child to the church for baptism. There is something about bringing an infant or small child to the place of worship, and there offering the child to God and receiving God’s blessing in return.
In Luke’s gospel that we just heard, Jesus’ parents responded to his birth by attending to the religious obligations of their Jewish faith. Their ancestral traditions were a reminder to them that Jesus was born into the covenant established between God and God’s people Israel. Since the time of the Exodus, the first born son was to be given to God, and was to belong to God in a special way and dedicated to serving God. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, Luke’s first audience would have remembered another mother who took her son to the temple. Hannah, who had been unable to have children, prayed for a son, and she vowed that she would give him to God for all his days. And so after Samuel was born, she brought him to the temple and “lent” him to God for life, and he would grow up to be the high priest, the one who chose and anointed David as the King.
Thus, when Joseph and Mary present Jesus to God in Jerusalem, they are in effect consecrating his life to God’s service. The angel Gabriel had told Mary that her son would be “holy” and called the “Son of God,” thus this story sets the stage for Jesus’ life to be devoted fully to God. And Luke tells us at the end of today’s reading that from the earliest of days, Jesus grew in wisdom and was favored by God.
Two thousand years have passed, and today Emily and Ryan have brought Cara for baptism. And although separated by centuries, and indeed by our understanding of God that has been revealed to us in Mary and Joseph’s son, there are similarities we can note that draw us together in very special ways with our spiritual ancestors.
First, of course, we share a sense of identity. In the epistle reading that Sharon read earlier, Paul says we are “adopted sons and daughters of God,” and since we are sons and daughters, we are God’s children now, and heirs through God. When we are born, we enter into our individual families, and when we are baptized, we enter into the larger family of faith. It is this family then that helps us hold on to our true identity as God’s child, when a multitude of external forces bend and shape us this way and that – things like what we do, where we go to school, who we know, or where we live.
Martin Luther is said to have reminded himself in times of despair, “I am baptized.” By stating his true identity, he was able to restore balance and proper perspective in stressful times. Perhaps for all of us, when nothing else seems to be going right on any given day, we can at least remind ourselves that we are baptized, that we are part of something much larger, much deeper, and much richer than ourselves that will outlast our current difficulties.
Second, we also share the need for community. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to a public place, the temple, and there they were encountered by Simeon and Anna, both of whom had been waiting for that day. Simeon held Jesus in his arms, and thanked God for the opportunity to see this child. Anna praised God and told everyone around her about the baby.
Earlier, you as Cara’s church family, took vows to live “according to the example of Christ,” and to” surround her with a community of love and forgiveness.” You are the Simeons and Annas of Cara’s life; the ones who will see how special she is; who will smile with welcome when she comes to Sunday School, and who will encourage her and show her how she too may grow in wisdom and in favor with God.
Baptism is a community undertaking, not a private event; it is a welcoming service. We are saying “this is your family; this is your home.” But what has been done here this morning is not simply a lone Sunday morning event because faith is a lifelong process of learning and growth. All of us are still learning, still growing. And our purpose here is to nurture, challenge, and deepen one another’s faith through our shared communion with one another. Together we develop our vision, our mission, our values, and our identity as children of God. And in difficult times, when any one of us has trouble remembering our core identity, our relationship with one another reminds us of our relationship with God, and reminds us that we are never without family.
Finally, we share an attitude of hope. Anna tells anyone who will listen that the redemption of Israel is near and Simeon thanks God that through many years of waiting he has finally seen God’s salvation. We believe too in the hope given to us through the Christ child. This hope allows us to testify that through Christ, God has given us the tomorrow that makes it possible for us to endure all that has happened to us yesterday. Life is not a simple straight journey from point A to point B. It holds many twists and turns, some doubling back, and repeating. But through its meandering path, we have the hope that we affirm each time we celebrate our other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, and we say Christ has died – which admits that yesterday was pretty terrible; Christ is risen – but things have turned around now; Christ will come again – a great tomorrow awaits us. . With baptism we are connected to Christ and we receive the power and hope for all our tomorrows, a hope we are called to remember for ourselves and to share with others.
Today is a special day; Cara was named and claimed as a child of God. We welcome her to a journey that will take her whole life. Today wasn’t the end; it marked the beginning of God’s work in her life. The God who claimed her before she can understand, gives us and gives her hope for a future that is known only to God. What God will make of her, we do not know. Where God will take her, how God will surprise her, we cannot say. But this one thing we know for sure – just as Mary and Joseph knew about their own son that day so long ago in the temple – the God who has given Cara this promise today will be faithful to her throughout her life and beyond. In all times and in all things, God is with her and will be with her always. Thanks be to God.