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An Oft Overlooked Symbol of Baptism

November 6, 2013

When I work with families to prepare them for the baptism of their children, the conversation always includes some time on the symbols of baptism—water for newness and life, oil for being set apart for God, a lit candle for light and power.  No surprises there.  But then I tell them about the fourth, oft overlooked symbol of baptism: the child.  This symbol, I think, is intended to speak primarily to the church, rather than the newly baptized and their families.

baptismWhen we baptize someone, we proclaim that they are made new in Christ and taken into the family of God, once and for all.  When we baptize small children, we make these proclamations without knowing what will happen in the future—what kind of terrible things the child might do or how badly they might hurt us or how thoroughly they might reject God.  Because it doesn’t matter.  They will belong to God—and to us—just as much in that worst-case-scenario future as they do in this adorable, kissable baby moment.

Shortly after my son was born it dawned on me that everyone was, at one time, someone’s baby.  Which meant that everyone (ideally, I know), was loved by someone the way I love my son.  When I get frustrated with people, I try to remember this—not that they were once sweet babies but that they are as loveable to someone as my son is to me.  Someone out there wants them to be treated gently as badly as I need my son to be treated gently.  So, as one parent to another, I try to be gentle.

Baptisms remind us that we are all children of God, all members of the body of Christ.  We are all as loveable to God as that baby is to its beaming family gathered around the font.  Even in our accumulated shortcomings, we are all loved by God as much as that innocent baby…and we are to welcome one another, shortcomings and all, with the same joy and hopefulness as we welcome that beautiful baby.

 

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