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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. For the past few Sundays, I’ve been sharing some of these letters here. This letter to Evelyn was preached on the first Sunday of Advent, 2011.
What an exciting day this is! The day of your baptism. You will not remember this day. But your parents will remember. And God remembers. That’s what really matters.
You may see photographs, and family members will tell you stories. What a joy for your parents to stand before the congregation today and make their sacred vows – that they will teach you the gospel of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, that they will lead you into faith and help you to know God, that they will pray for you and teach you to pray. And what a joy for this community to witness yet another child initiated into the community of faith. We too pledge to teach and pray for you, to be examples of Christian character and love. Welcome, Evelyn, to the ranks of the baptized!
Perhaps you wonder then, if it is such a joyful day, why our scripture readings this morning sounded so serious and somber.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and although the whole world has gone into holiday mode – decorating and attending parties and going shopping, we Christians do not celebrate and make merry too quickly. We know that there are many things in the world that are not as they should be. People go hungry. The poor do not have justice done for them. Wars rage. Floods roar and tempests blow.
Did you hear Jesus telling his followers to “stay awake”? That’s probably not a message you hear a lot! Instead, you are probably encouraged to “Go to sleep now, Evelyn.” They give you a bottle or a pacifier or wrap you in a blanket and say, “Go to sleep.”
Why does Jesus say, “Stay awake”? Well because, Evelyn, a lot of us, most of us, are experts at finding our own bigger pacifiers – things that will comfort us and make us drowsy so we don’t have to really live, don’t have to face up to this scary world, don’t have to look for God coming among us.
Our pacifiers are a lot more dangerous and deadening than yours. For some of us it is still a bottle. And maybe not a blanket, but something new, something big, something shiny that gives us the feeling that “all is well.” Some of us get too busy and frantic. Others plod through the same dull routines. Anything to keep us comfortable and drowsy.
But Jesus tells us to “Stay awake!” Watch! Be prepared! Be expectant! God is working right here and now. We’ve got to be awake to catch it. Because we’re scared, because we’re lonely, because there are so many terrible things, we want to fall asleep, to hide, to look away.
Of course, Evelyn, you need to sleep. You need to take naps. But I pray that you will learn to live by the words of Jesus. “Stay Awake!” Watch and expect God to move. Pay attention. Be curious. Ask questions. Take it in. Be eager and hopeful. Look for the goodness and beauty of God everywhere. Stay awake and every now and then, you’ll see Jesus.
Often it seems like we want to echo the words of Isaiah the prophet, who spoke for the people of ancient Israel while they were living in exile (that means far from their home) in Babylon. They said to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
“Come and save us!” was their urgent cry. “God, come and save us from enslavement. Save us from loss of identity. Come and rescue us from economic bondage. Come and protect us from loss of hope.”
Evelyn, you do not know it yet, but we live in troubled times. Cooperation and goodwill are at a very low ebb. We teeter on the edge of ecological crisis and faith in God is fading.
Tear open the heavens and come down” are words that resonate with us. “Where is God in a time like this?” we ask. “Why doesn’t God do something?”
But in this season of Advent, we remember that we are waiting people. We wait for something more. . . for salvation to come, for the consummation of time, for Christ’s return.
Here’s the Good News, Evelyn. You are being baptized into the faith of the One who has in fact already torn open the heavens and come down, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
He was the one who preached and taught little children, who healed the sick and served the poor on the hillsides of Galilee. The one of whom people said that he was the Messiah. . .but by whom others were offended. He is the one who, in the end, was abandoned by his followers and crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem, the one whom God raised from the dead and who lives even now as our savior and Lord.
In Jesus Christ, God did exactly what the ancient Israelites prayed for. God tore open the heavens and came down. God is not far off and unconcerned. God does not need to be awakened and told about the terrible state of things.
God is among us, and that changes everything. Heaven and earth are not tightly sealed compartments that never touch, with nothing in common. Instead, in this very same Jesus, they now flow together – back and forth. Even in this scary world, heaven is among us if you know how to see, if you stay awake. And in the risen body of Jesus, earth is now in heaven as well.
So Evelyn, don’t be afraid, for God is with us. Stay awake and sometimes you will see that hole in the sky where God has come down. And not only is God among us and with us, Evelyn, God is in us too – in you. Remember that. Rely on that when the world seems too scary, when you want to hide or sleep. Be strong and hopeful, courageous and at peace, because Jesus Christ has come into this world and made a home with us. And no matter what, you will always have a home with him.
Evelyn Joy, child of the covenant, in baptism you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.