12.21.2011

Christmas Day Baptisms

On Christmas Day, our girls will be baptized.

I contributed a post to the Christian Century blog last month about our discernment process - To Bless or to Baptize. As I explained in the reflection, I'm ordained in a tradition that baptizes adults, yet am serving what is intended to be a long term associate pastorate in a tradition that baptizes babies. I wrote about our lean toward imminent baptisms, "Neither aesthetics nor theology sway the decision. Both ways are beautiful, and both ways - to borrow a quip of William Willimon's - "work." What it comes down to is the matter of community."

A few comments on the post gave me pause. One critiqued my "confusion" about baptism, from someone who seemed like they might have fairly particular opinions about the proper and improper ways to go about it. A couple others seemed stunned that anyone cares about this stuff anymore; one went so far as to say "rites don't matter."

After giving this all a bit of thought and prayer, I realize that I partially concur with the person who found me confused. I am confused about baptism. But I'm embracing my confusion. According to the etymology dictionary, "Latin confusus was the pp. of confundere "to pour together, mix, mingle; to join together;" hence, figuratively, "to throw into disorder; to trouble, disturb, upset."

(Wade in the water... God's gonna trouble the water.)

I think baptism is one of the most confusing elements of the Christian faith.

But wait: even as I typed that, I thought: well, it certainly isn't any more confusing than the Eucharist. (This is my body, broken for you, take and eat?!) Communion mixes up biblical narrative and sacrificial offerings and family meals and hospitality and grace and the vision of a Messianic banquet and King's Hawaiian brand bread (at least in California).

And baptism, well, baptism certainly troubles the water. It dramatizes the radical notion that we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ. The drama is considerably more vivid with adult baptism by immersion; you literally go under. The sprinkling seems like a much friendlier welcome, but have no doubt: the child baptized is welcomed into a community that confesses the path to everlasting life is inextricably linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Really, both the central sacraments are deeply, classically confusing. They pour together things seen and unseen. They mix flesh and Spirit. They mingle things ordinary (in this case, beautiful matching brocade dresses) and profound. They join together life and death in a manner that radically rejects the possibility that you live, you die, and that's it.

They are as simple as bread and juice and water, and they are means of grace.

Last spring, Erica wrote of her son's baptism, "I believe that his baptism today is the single most important event in Abram’s life. Not his life so far, but his whole life."

Rites - sacraments - matter. I realize now that I have absolutely no idea what it means to say that baptism "works," only that I believe this story, and want to live it, and want to usher our children into this extravagant covenant of love established between God and his children. Before God and the congregation, together with Ben and the children's sponsors - a dear family who are exemplars of faith and hospitality - I want to vow to raise these children in the way of Christ.

I'm going to baptize them myself. (We probably don't even need to fill the font that day, as I will surely generate enough tears to do the trick.)

The funny thing about baptizing an almost-four-year-old is that she is neither a baby nor a young adult. She might actually remember this, and certainly needs some explanation, though we don't expect her to understand it.

(I love that we do not expect her to understand it. I wish we didn't expect people to understand mysteries more often.)

Tonight, during our Advent wreath devotions, we read a book to her, Water, Come Down! by Walter Wangerin. It's a lovely book. She perked up at the picture of the baptism itself; she was concerned that it looked like the minister was pouring quite a bit of water on the child's brow. Juliette does not like to get wet - another irony for the daughter of this immerser! I have promised her I will be more sparing.


But what will never be sparing is our love for Juliette and Genevieve, and God's love for Juliette and Genevieve.

Signed and sealed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.





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