First Sunday After Christmas
The Rev. Elizabeth Tesi
Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Psalm 147
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7, John 1:1-18
Today, we celebrate the baptism of a child. I am a lucky preacher, for our readings today work very well for a baptism. From the opening collect which thanks god for the light of the incarnate word, to the gospel which clarifies that the Word is Christ incarnate deity, to the Galatians reading which celebrates that we are all adopted children of God, this is a week to celebrate the human family and the love that God bears Gods family. Think aabout how This child is loved and supported within a wide community of dedicated parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends who care for him. That microcosm is just one example of how we model God's love to each other. These readings tell a story of a praise-filled relationship of God's people with a God who loves them as his own children. And what is a baptism if not a community's response to God's love?
So let's talk Paul for a moment, this morning. Paul declares that when the fullness of time had come, God sent God's son, born of a woman, to redeem the people under the law. We are adopted as children, and heirs, of God. Remember that today is all about the mutuality of a relationship of praise and love. Mutuality is not something human beings always do well. Consider the role that heritage, formal legal heritage, played in many societies. Heritage used to be essential in the world. It determined your station in life, your level of comfort in life. In England's novels of manners, such as Jane Eyre and Mansfield Park, we can read about a ward or a child who was raised up in someone else's house because a parent wasn't able to care for them. However, the ward was not granted a part in the heritage of the firstborn child. The ward had no legal status, no community status. He or she was given a home, but entitled to nothing. The ward was a second choice child. It was the biological child who had preferential treatment. When we hear that God claims us as his adopted child, and as his heirs, this carries a great deal of weight in many Societies of the world. Being an heir gives us a status, as chosen, wanted, beloved. This is what we are celebrating in baptism- no matter how we were born, no matter at what stage of life we come to faith, we are celebrating at all ages that we are beloved children of God. We are chosen as if we were always the first choice of his creation. In a world where we are much more likely to know the pain of rejection and grief, isn't it a blessing to think that in this place we are God's beloved, God's own?
I also find it significant that Paul takes pains to specify that Jesus was born of a woman, herself under the law. in other words, Mary was as human as all of us. She wasn't free of the sin we all bear. There was no "immaculate conception" as if she were not like the rest of us. He was not miraculously delivered free of the messiness of birth or without the need for a mother. And by Jesus' needing that mother, Paul clarifies that all people are essential to God's plan for God's people. No salvation would have happened without the direct consent and action of a woman. This is an incredibly empowering piece of scripture: women are not just a tool, but are essential to the salvation plan and action. Gods people are chosen as heirs and intellectually active beings- the first choice of God's people. God's people consent to God's love. That is why we baptize publicly, surrounded by our community.
And on this first Sunday of Christmas, as we come to the close of our secular year with the new year of January, I believe it is good news to believe that we are beloved, and chosen, and that our consent and our action is vital to being part of God's plan for humanity. Over the last few weeks, we have heard some terrible news in our country and in our world. Children have died. Adults have died. Our country is facing a fiscal cliff because our leaders can't cooperate. Late friday, I read the news that the Indian woman who was brutally attacked on the bus has died of her injuries. To me, it seems to be a common theme that a person's autonomy and belovedness were brutally violated in our fallen world. So indeed it is good news to celebrate that God chooses us, asking our full consent, our full intellectual self, our full autonomy, as a receptacle of God's love. To celebrate that a child is so precious to his family and friends that his parents choose to have him blessed and baptized into this community of faith expresses a great hope in this difficult world. Baptisms are about choosing as we'll as being chosen- it's a great, holy dance in which God waves His divine dance card at us, in hope that we will sign up for the waltz. We have to say yes. And it is good news indeed on any day when our news is about suffering and violation, to know that in God we consent to that love as his first choice.
On this holy feast day of Sunday, as we celebrate the baptism of this child, our readings celebrate our autonomy to be chosen as God's family. They show us that God could not have come into this world with out our consent. They name him as the Light, born of a woman, and they name us also as heirs to the glory of God, adopted as we all are into the great family of God. They celebrate our actions of praise, and they celebrate our saying yes to the eternal word who chose us. Indeed, thanks be to God. And may your hearts and minds consent to know this day as joyful.