From Epiphany to Baptism:
Our change of direction!
Mark 1: 4-13
There is a hymn written by John Bell and Graham Maule that asks the question, “will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” and the last verse concludes with the reason: “Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me!”
As I was reflecting on my Epiphany and my Baptism and how they reflect the changes of direction in my life I was challenged to consider a variant of those words: “Will you go and take me with you everywhere you go? Will you show the love God gives you in everything you do? Will you hold me like your child and help me grow?”
The singer of the hymn we know so well is all grown up, but this morning I had a picture of a child crying, “don’t leave me here, but take me with you everywhere you go.”
I have heard so many people gawk at a baby and as they have been allowed to hold her threaten to run away with her. “Aw, isn’t she beautiful,” they gush as the baby sleeps and their arms rock like a mobile cradle.
How can a mother hope to prise her baby from the arms of a mesmerised friend? No worries! The baby has a plan and with a few noises the whiff of a mess will cause a transfer back to mother’s arms or a scream that no amount of rocking will silence achieves the same end. The benefit of being a grandparent or friend is that you give a child back to the parents. What a relief!
I am sure that if the Magi had been wise women or three queens they would have taken the baby from the cradle, but they and the shepherds before them were men who were probably intimidated by the fragile bundle of flesh and bones. They look and sing their praises, but don’t seem to hold the baby.
We have something in common, my friends, because we met at the birth place and were so amazed at what we saw that we took the child into our hearts, promising to help him grow in strength and wisdom! No giving him back when he demands a change or cries in the night for attention because he is ours to look after and nurture. That’s the link between Christmas and baptism. We find the child at Christmas, then promise to help him grow when we are baptised.
The day we found the child and looked in awesome wonder at his beauty changed our lives and as we grew to know him better we want the whole world to meet him as we did — at the place of birth from where we take him with us for everyone to meet. That’s us, carrying the child we met into the world to make disciples of all nations!
We can leap the years from baby to grown-up Jesus in our reading and reflection, but the seed of faith is like the new born child within us that demands nurturing to fulfil the will of God through human flesh and bones. Reflecting on Baptism so soon after Epiphany reminds us that our Christmas gift can’t be put away for a year, but becomes the child we promise to look after.
I think one of the problems is that as Church leaders we preach how the grown-up Jesus will lead us, teach us and heal us so that we can enter the kingdom of God. We are waiting for Jesus to grow-up and save us, but if we help him grow up the kingdom will enter into us!
It’s not something to go running after or searching for like a lost treasure as if it can be found over here or over there because it’s in here! It’s in YOUR heart. (Luke 17: 20-25) It’s the child-like faith within us to be found and nurtured. Love the Jesus within you and that love will reach out to your neighbours from within you.
YOU are the birth place where Jesus is found and our baptism is a commitment of the trust, faith and hope that we have in the child. Our ministry is to see the Christ child in each other if we are to preach the grown-up message in a language that is easily understood by everyone.
It was like my personal Epiphany on Wednesday when I woke up to the realisation that I’ve got a child in me for life that I can’t give back to a mother so I have a responsibility to help him grow up to reflect the image of his Father. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me, concludes the hymn. When you go will you take me everywhere you go, cries the child?
This isn’t the abduction of a child that isn’t mine, but is like signing the adoption paper for a child I will love as my own. We are not child minders or baby sitters who can give the child back at the end of a day because the child lives with us 24/7 365 days of a year. This is when we become united in the same family, caring for each other with a parental love that binds us together as nations in one Kingdom. Father God, I wonder how I managed to exist without the knowledge of your parenthood and your loving care. But now I am your child, I am adopted in your family and I can never be alone ‘cause, Father God, you’re there beside me. When we commit to looking after the Son God loves we are adopted into the same family.
My personal Epiphany on Wednesday was that I found a child who will change my life because I can’t leave him behind. I must change my direction — attitude or behaviour — and leave my gifts behind for God to use as and when they are needed. This is the Epiphany bit and I can’t take the familiar road back to where I want to be, but am committed to a journey into the unknown with this child who I will help to live and grow. From Epiphany to Baptism as I change my direction.
This isn’t washing away the dirt of life with some water from a river and then getting messed up again by the temptations of the world. Everyone who washes in that water will be dirty again, but anyone who washes in the water of life will never be dirty again. Forgive me for plagiarising words from John’s gospel (4:14) spoken to the Samaritan woman but it so expresses the power of baptism received in the name of Jesus. Drink it in and it will wash you clean inside and outside!
As a parent you will know how having a baby is a life changing experience with the old way of life sacrificed to help your child grow in strength and wisdom. Parents will go without food to feed their child or stay awake all night to protect him or her from danger and if you think it changes when they are older you are still too young to know the truth. We are always there for our children as our heavenly Father is for us.
On my first visit to Kenya I had an encounter with a child that inspired me to write a short poem:
Lord, I had coffee and ice cream
then walked down the street
to meet a boy with a dream
with no shoes on his feet
with no self esteem
and with nothing to eat.
Lord, what could I do
for such a child of the street
who was created by you
and dreams of shoes on his feet?
I went back to Kenya to manage a children’s home to help such children grow-up knowing what it is like to have shoes on their feet, but there is something profoundly disturbing as I remember that poem: Today, I know, that I would walk past that grown-up child who has a dream of having shoes on his feet, has no self-esteem and has no food to eat without a second thought. Lord, when did I see you hungry with no shoes on your feet?
The grown-up child that was born at Christmas as the Word in human flesh is so often left waiting, waiting on the streets; no one as his neighbour, all alone he eats……The beginning of another hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule and I suggest our Baptism is a commitment to take the child and help him grow as if he is our own so that he won’t be found sleeping on the street, with no shoes on his feet and begging for food to eat!
There was a child at my Epiphany crying “when you go take me wherever you may go,” and I am committed to helping him to grow! What about you? Amen.