I Christmas – December 28, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor
Dear Garrett and Cooper,
There are moments in the life of a community of faith that are difficult enough to break your heart and there are moments that are sweeter than gospel honey.
The baptism of the two of you boys is one of those very sweet moments for this church. For whatever it’s worth, this is your church home. Your mother’s parents, Fred and Suzy settled in this church when they were newly married.
Your grandfather Fred was very active in this church before his sudden death took him from us about eight years ago. Your fathers moved that memorial statue which was given in his memory into the church last night so we could remember him in our prayers today.
Both of your mothers were baptized and confirmed in this church. Both of your parents were also married in this church. Cooper, your sisters Lindsey and Riley were also baptized here. Lucky me, I got to officiate at the wedding of Garrett’s parents, Meredith and Sean – a memory I will always treasure.
Both of you boys are being baptized into this wonderful family story and church tradition in the midst of the re-telling of the story of the Nativity of Jesus.
The Service of Christmas Lessons and Carols on the first Sunday after Christmas has become a tradition here at St. Paul’s. It’s a little unusual to have Lessons and Carols with Eucharist, but well, we make it work out pretty well, I think.
I can honestly say that I’ve never heard of a service of Lessons and Carols, Baptism and Eucharist before. In fact, it may well be the first of its kind. Imagine! In the midst of all this history and tradition comes that which serves the needs of the people.
And you know what, boys? That’s when the church is at its best. And, you know, that’s not far from the essence of the story of the birth of Jesus.
You’ll learn all of this in church school, boys, but the history of the Jewish people, our religious ancestors, is one where they prayed for a King – but not just any old King. They prayed for a King who would be their savior – a Messiah.
Someone strong and brave and bold like King David who would smite the Roman Occupied Forces and liberate the Jewish people from the oppression and corruption and cruelty of the likes of Caesar and Herod.
That had been the tradition and history of the Jewish people – a strong King who started bloody wars and won by force. But, this time, God had something different in mind. God had another way of freedom – another path toward liberation – to offer.
Into the lives of the people of Israel, through a young girl who was reportedly still a virgin but engaged to be married to a man much older than she, God sent Jesus. Not the strong son of a warrior, but the child who was to be the son of a carpenter.
Not a brave man with a strong arm to wield a sword and cut down the enemy, but one whose hands would take iron to wood to hone and polish it while he himself grew in wisdom and maturity and strength.
God sent Jesus to save the world, but not exactly in the way the world at that time thought it needed to be saved. Their vision was too small. Too short-sighted. God was sending someone for the long haul. Someone to save the world not as everyone now knew it, but the world as it was about to become.
Brute force can only change things in the short term. Long-term change is something that is won through perseverance and persistence. And, a strong foundation.
Jesus is that strong foundation, boys. It is Jesus who changes hearts and minds not through brute strength or cunning deceit. It is Jesus who nurtures and sustains so that you can persevere and persist. It is into a life in Christ that you are being baptized today.
The story of your life will become part of the ongoing story of the Nativity of Jesus and his life will be revealed to others through your life.
Cooper and Garrett, I write these Baptismal Love Letters in the hopes that your mothers will keep them for you so you can read them in preparation for your Confirmation. I hope that you embrace all of the rich history and tradition of the Christian faith into which you have been baptized today.
It is also my prayer that you will take inspiration from this service and make this faith your own, taking all that is good from the legacy of the institutional church and hone and polish it for yourselves, just as Jesus did with the wood in his father’s carpentry shop.
Your job is to become who you truly are – who God intended you to be – in your own unique way. A wise man once said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oh, there will be times when in pursuing your goal, you’ll break your parents hearts. Not purposefully, or intentionally, but you’ll do it anyway.
They have dreams for you. All parents do. You have to live the dream God has for you. That’s your job. That’s what your baptism in Christ empowers you to do. That’s what the church – when it’s at its best – enables you to do.
Garrett and Cooper, you have a rich family tradition and the stories of your lives will become part of the story of the life of your family. You are part of the story of this church family now. Indeed, you were even before you were born.
And, the story of your life will become part of the ongoing revelation of the story of Jesus. Every time the story is told.
Every Christmas Pageant in which you play a sheep or a shepherd, a Wise Man or a Star.
Every time you participate in a Service of Lessons and Carols.
And, every time you receive Holy Communion you will be nourished and sustained to live into another chapter in your life in Christ.
Welcome, Garrett and Cooper. Welcome to your part in the story.
It will be such a treat to watch you grow up. I can’t wait to learn what you will teach us – what your lives will reveal to us – about Jesus.
And, when your lives do that, when your lives reveal something else, something more, something new about Jesus, it will be another one of those sweeter-than-gospel-honey moments in the life of this community of faith.