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Over the years, I’ve developed a little tradition of writing a letter to the child or children being baptized as the sermon on that Sunday. I’ve been sharing some of these letters here on Sundays on the blog of the Reformed Journal. This letter to Will was from the first Sunday of Advent, 2009
What a joy it is to welcome you into this community of faith through baptism! Your whole family has gathered here today to witness this event. . . and to vow, with each one of us here, that we will share the gospel of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ with you, that we will be examples of Christian faith and character to you, and that we will support you with fellowship, prayer, and service.
Maybe you noticed this morning that there is the hull of a small boat floating high above the baptismal font. Today is the first day of Advent, and that boat is our Advent wreath. Before too long we will explain Advent and wreaths to you. For today, let’s talk about that boat.
We read the story of baby Moses this morning. Moses was born into a precarious political situation in Egypt. The Pharaoh, afraid of the Hebrew people, was putting to death their infant boys. In order to keep her child safe, Moses’ mother made a basket of reeds for him, and set him out on the banks of the river. He was probably no bigger than you are. But baby Moses in that little basket, was found and rescued and then grew up in the household of the Pharaoh himself.
That little basket of reeds, a boat of sorts, became his safekeeping and the vehicle that propelled Moses into his journey. He grew up to fulfill God’s calling on his life, leading his people out of slavery, being their leader in the wilderness, bringing God’s covenant and laws to them. Moses was to become Israel’s greatest prophet.
I wonder how Moses’ mother felt when she let him go like that — alone and vulnerable in his little boat? She had to trust that even though she could not be there all the time, he would remain in God’s care and keeping.
In a few moments, you and your parents will stand before the congregation. In an apparently small gesture, they will hand you to me. It seems small and insignificant, but it is really very important — and rightfully, also very difficult for your parents. For when they hand you to me, they are signaling that they are letting go of you, they are handing you to this congregation of people, to the entire Church of Jesus Christ, and ultimately to God.
I don’t need to tell you, Will, that your parents have known the precariousness of life. In one little gesture, they are placing you in the boat, joining Jochebed, the mother of Moses, when she placed her little baby in a reed basket and gently pushed him out into the mighty Nile. Like Jochebed, they too feel frightened about placing their precious little child — that’s you — in a small boat and launching you on your journey, knowing that they can only do so much for you.
Daring to let go of our children and entrusting them to God — it is a frightening thing to do. Will this congregation take care of you? Where might you drift? Will God really watch over you? But in baptism, your parents are saying “Yes, the boat is sound and God is good.” And you, little Will, are among the precious cargo on that boat. You become part of the people of God who travel together.
Ultimately, our children are in God’s keeping and care. And so you are, Will. Your baptism is the sign and seal of that. In your baptism today, you are being claimed as God’s own forever, because of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The story is told of ancient Celtic Christians from Ireland and the northern British Isles who would make for themselves little rafts of reeds and wood and skins that they called coracles. From the islands they inhabited, they would jump into their coracles and let the current carry them. When they reached land, wherever it might be, they believed that that was where God had sent them to share his love, to pass on the Gospel of Jesus. They were free and at the bidding of God — waiting to be carried wherever God had in mind.
Will, that is what we are saying about you today, too. We have no idea where you will be carried in your life, what service God has in store for you, but we are putting you in your boat and putting you out to sea.
It isn’t just for today. You are becoming part of a traveling, floating, moving, people. You are just beginning your journey. And as I mentioned, today is the first day of Advent — a season of journeying for all of us, when each of us becomes more aware of moving closer to Jesus.
We send you off on this journey today, Will. Each week, when you come back here to worship with your family, this community will remind you, “You are not alone. Do not be afraid. Jesus is in this boat with you. He is stronger than the wind and the waves. And the Holy Spirit is guiding your boat in vast and mysterious ways.”
William James, child of the covenant, in baptism you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.