Mary Cantacuzene – Baptism of Hector
Matthew 18 1-5, 10
In the reading Jesus calls a little child to come and stand with him amongst the grown-ups… and uses him as an example to his disciples. It’s quite a powerful visual image And one that they would not have been expecting. It would have really got their attention… because in those days children were considered very un-important. They were kept with the women and expected to be neither seen nor heard. Jesus was rather fed-up with the disciples because they were too interested in status, wasting time worrying about who was the greatest. And Jesus wanted to teach them about humility. The religious tradition in Jesus time was all about hierarchy, who was more important than who, and being seen to be the best, the most favoured!
In our society now we are less hierarchical. We don’t look down on children for example, and the children here, are all as much honoured guests as the grown-ups. Today is Advent Sunday, the run up to Christmas starts here. It is a time of anticipation, and mystery of lighting candles in the dark evenings and preparing ourselves and thinking ahead. And in the church calendar this is a time of thinking, not just about Jesus coming as the baby son of God born in a shed of some sort …in Bethlehem and laid in a manger… but also Jesus coming again at the end of the world to create the new heaven and the new earth we all long for when there will be no more crying or pain, where evil will be vanquished and death defeated forever. God’s mind works logically, of course. He had tried over and over again to get his people to behave in the right sort of way, but again and again they turned away from him and worshipped other gods. In the end he had to send his own Son to live among us and teach us how to behave, how to love, how to forgive, how not to look down on each other but to put other people before ourselves to bring light into a dark world. But even more than that, to die for us on the cross, to take all our sin and wrongdoing on himself and set us free from death, giving us eternal life instead. …. What a sacrifice, what love he showed. And even though Jesus did so much to teach us… and save us, and yet still our world is a bit of a mess. So if you think Jesus coming the first time was a good thing, then wait and see what an amazing thing it will be when Jesus comes again! This time not coming as a baby, but coming “in Glory”! As well as anticipating Christmas today and lighting the First advent candle at the beginning of the service The last thing in the service today is that we will light a candle and say to Hector … “God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light. You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life” And that is our fervent hope and prayer for Hector, that he will walk in the light of Christ. And children seem to understand very well about Jesus — especially if the people around them, the people who they know best: Parents, grandparents and god parents …tell them about Him. And in a sense, children have a march on us, they are natural Christians from the start given half a chance. For us adults it’s much harder to believe, we are different, frightened of losing control, of giving up our adulthood so we tend to hide behind science, and logic, and sophisticated arguments (we might even find good reasons not to have to bother with faith at all!) As though taking the risk of believing is something to be avoided at all costs… “what will I have to do?, or “Oh dear. how will I have to change?” or even… “I can’t possibly be good enough”! The truth is …we are all in the same boat, we all feel that at times but I hope really that we all know here that we don’t have to be “good enough” to stand in God’s presence, to come to church…because frankly, none of us are that(!). we are all aware of our faults and failings and just delighted to be included, to be a tiny cog, in the great wheel of God’s grand plan. The reason Jesus asked a child to stand among his friends was because children have a simplicity about them, they don’t need to have everything explained… before they understand about God; they have an instinctive faith. Children have no fears about the possible depth of commitment when they become followers of Jesus. So … when Jesus asks us to believe he asks us to be like children and he is asking us to accept that belief is not the same as knowledge… not the same as certainty.
Having faith means having to accept that element of doubt and live with it, putting aside our adult pride, and trusting in the infinite mercy and mystery of God. In the reading this morning, Jesus said we mustn’t look down on children, but in fact take a leaf out of their book, change, and ourselves become, as much as we can, like Hector ….We must take our cue from him, humble ourselves, (simplify ourselves if you like) to be like a child. By that, Jesus means, no arguments, no blaming God for bad things that have happened, no complications…no hiding behind “sensible” reservations and objections, but receive his love.. with innocence and simplicity and joy. Faith, in a way, is an adventure; there is no snappy one-line definition for faith — and for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the kind of faith Jesus is talking about. God is inscrutable… He can’t be bound by cheap certainty, we have to be prepared sometimes to say “I don’t know”….it’s a mystery, anything is possible!
So as we watch these children here, we can learn from them… not to try to define God in terms of our own limited imagination, or think that faith is the same as knowledge. Sophy and Keith and the godparents, Claire, Nicholas and Emma are obeying God’s call; they have made solemn promises today to help Hector have the best possible start in life. they have confirmed their intention to bring him up to know about Jesus To send him on his journey into the world supported by their love and their prayers; and with the shared values and encouragement of the worldwide church. And one of the great benefits is that from today Hector will be God’s son — as well as being Keith and Sophy’s son, And like a good Father, like Keith, God will love Hector just because he does …unconditionally. not because he is good, or handsome or clever, or just plain cute! He will just love him because he is His precious child, just the way he loves us all… because of his grace we are saved. Jesus said, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”. Jesus invites us to come to his table this Advent Sunday to receive communion to remember his birth and his death.. and his resurrection …and his coming again.