“Honey, whatever that is you are doin’, you gotta put it down and come hold this baby.”
So writes Pastor Lonnie Lacy in a beautiful blog post.
He offers this as the most important advice he received as a brand new chaplain in a neo natal intensive care unit.
Only twenty four, two years out of college, he just arrived to the unit in his starchy white shirt, coat and tie, shiny new plastic bag, clipboard in hand and a clueless expression on his face.
Watching three nurses tending to the babies, he tried to look important, and very busy.
One nurse looked over and said, “Honey, whatever that is you’re doin’, you gotta put it down and come hold this baby. If you are going to be the baby’s chaplain, that’s what he needs you to do.”
Today, baby James, will be held by his parents and Mother Kate on our behalf as he is baptized into our Christian community.
And “honeys, we need to put down whatever we are doing, and be willing to hold the baby lovingly in our own hearts.”
It’s a glorious day for Baby James to be baptized, the day that we commemorate The Baptism of the Lord. A time set aside to contemplate the Lord’s Baptism and our own.
Although it seems a bit odd – we just witnessed the Holy Child’s birth, the visit of the Magi to his manger, and now adult Jesus is desiring Baptism at the Jordan River.
Where have the years gone?
Yet let’s consider this wider context.
The birth of Jesus, the visit of the Magi to the Manger and Jesus’ baptism are all Epiphanies – manifestations of God being revealed to humankind. The reign of God breaks forth in each of these moments – revealing the gift of God’s presence on earth.
Jesus in this Gospel prepares to launch his ministry by requesting baptism. He appears to know that this is the way to claim his identity, his life’s purpose and meaning.
Baptized by human hands, Jesus ushers God’s reign into existence, and points us towards claiming our own Christian identity – sharing the work of building God’s reign.
James’ parents have expressed this desire for their baby.
We will be asked to do the same when we renew our vows, promise to renounce evil, promise to build a world where all have access to a life of dignity, God’s love, justice and mercy.
Baptism is the beginning of a remarkable journey. One that we pray leads to a lifetime of action for Baby James and for each one of us as we mature into the full stature of Christ, living in right relationship with God and with God’s People.
It is the beginning of a pilgrimage of transformation – change that is possible within us when we live into the gift of God’s grace at work in our lives, /change possible in our world when we use our own gifts in service to all of God’s beloved sons and daughters.
Jesus appeared to understand this when He desired Baptism. After all, He received divine approval, “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Sadly, I can’t say that I always fully understood it.
As I visited the Holy Land on the first anniversary of my ordination, I was excited to renew my baptismal vows in the River Jordan.
I could almost hear the clear rushing sound of the river, the sun glistening off its cleansing water.
I would certainly move a notch closer to a right relationship with God, and share in Jesus’ own experience.
As I walked to the edge of the water, my heart sank, disappointment showed immediately on my face.
The River Jordan was dark and murky, filled with sediment, debris scattered along the shore with someone’s discarded sofa-abandoned midway between the river’s edges.
Surely I was not wading into that mess.
It brought me back to another moment – my own pre chaplaincy days – when I was visiting a dying friend at an urban hospital around midnight on a Friday night. The security guard asked me to wait temporarily in the ER waiting room. I took one look in, was frightened and thought surely I am not wading into that gathering of bleeding, drug using, and illness bearing people.
Neither of these experiences represented the beautiful Gospel scenes I imagined, Jesus’s immersion into the cleansing waters of the Jordan, his often loving embrace of those in need of healing, those others would not go near.
I knew then I wasn’t going for full immersion into the ER and I knew in this new moment – I wasn’t wading into the Jordan River.
Yet none of this reluctance, this failure to act, made me very feel good about my desire to boldly live out my faith.
I remembered that sacraments are transformative experiences – signs of the physical and spiritual change that occur when God’s grace is at work in our lives. Despite my fears, willingness to act even in the smallest possible way could make me a conduit of God’s grace.
I renewed my Baptismal vows and welcomed the sprinkling of that “holy Jordan water” as it cascaded over me.
These experiences became a personal metaphor for the life that Baptism finds each one of us living – a life that isn’t always what we expect, that is sometimes dark and murky, often filled with situations and people that cause our hearts to sink with fear.
Yet isn’t this the very commitment we make when we promise to live into our Baptismal Covenant?
Take some time today (to hear) (to read) all of the theology expressed in the Baptismal ritual.
Baptism is a willingness to accept, a promise to illuminate the world with the light of Christ, to build God’s reign for ALL God’s beloved Sons and daughters, without exception.
Even when the conditions appear dark, murky and frightening – we must be willing to “hold the baby” even when we fail to recognize them as God’s beloved sons and daughters.
As we witness Baby James’s Baptism, /as we renew our vows – let us remember the nurse’s advice – “Honey, whatever it is you’re doin, put it down and come hold the baby.”
For “holding the baby,” Pastor Lonnie Lacy writes, means having to put some things down.
Holding the baby means nothing else matters – everything that turns us from God must fall away.
Holding the baby means…
The warriors must put down their tramping boots and all their garments rolled in blood.
The oppressors their rods.
The emperors their censuses.
The leaders their egos.
The chaplains their clipboards.
The fussy (like me) their fear and reluctance to immerse themselves into the murk and contagion.
It means letting everything else fall away – our distractions, our ambitions, our wrongs, our hurts, our grievances, our power, our fears.
It’s a glorious day! Baby James is about to be baptized.
Let’s all get ready to hold baby James in our hearts.
And as we renew our own Baptismal covenant, let’s remember – we promise to hold all of God’s beloved family there too – even when we are reluctant or frightened to do so.
“Honeys, whatever that is we are doin’, we gotta put it down and come hold these babies – for as their chaplains that’s what they need us to do.”