by Peter Lockhart
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Of course such spiritual moments of knowing God’s presence are not restricted to the birth and baptism of a child. People find experiences of God in many places on a mountaintop, in a concert, in the early morning on a surfboard, in the gathering of loved family and friends, and dare I even suggest here in a place like this, a church, sharing with other Christians in bread and wine. Moments when we find our hearts are lifted at the joy of the experience life in all its mystery and wonder.
Yet, whilst it may be easy on this day to rejoice in this particular setting, if we go back to the time when the apostle Paul wrote his letter the time and the experience of the people within that time were quite different.
The letter was written around 30 years after Jesus death and resurrection, to what was probably quite a small group of Philippians, who had become followers of Jesus. Among their number were both Jews and gentiles who lived under the rule of the Roman Empire.
It is more than likely this early community of followers of Jesus found themselves at the margins of the society. They were probably being harassed and ostracized because of their decision to follow Jesus. This tension came from both Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities.
In Paul’s letter to them I have sense that he is encouraging them to make room in the lives for who God was and what God had done. He was encouraging them with the themes that the church has subsequently chosen as the advent themes: hope, peace, joy and love. To hope in Christ’s return! To know that God is a God of peace who makes people holy! To love each other as God had loved them! And, to rejoice in the Lord always!
Doing these things, making room for God, was a task which would take energy and effort and so Paul’s letter is a letter of encouragement to the Philippians.
Now I’m going to use this image of making room as a rather clunky segue into R. and T. lives. T. and R. have recently been literally making rooms in their lives. They have been doing refurbishments and extensions in their home.
I have only listened briefly to their experience of ‘making room’, or at least changing them, but have picked as I have heard many time from people who have worked on improving their property, and as we have experience as a congregation recently, that it takes a lot of effort to make changes.
There is a physical commitment to move things round and help. It takes time; time to meet contractors and builders, time to do aspects of the work yourself. It can be a drain on your emotions but in the end it can be uplifting. It involves our spirits as we lean on our and our inner reserves to make decisions about what is right. And it impacts our bank balance as we play with numbers and finances to get the job done. The experience of making the effort to physically make rooms can in itself change our lives and more so becomes a lesson for us in other changes we face.
Earlier this year T. and R. were confronted with making room for A. within their lives as a family; no longer simply a couple now you are a family. And no doubt in this, making room for A. there have physical, chronological, spiritual, financial and emotional impacts for you. Your lives have been significantly altered and will continue to be from now on.
In making room for A. in your life you have stepped, consciously or not, in faith. What life has in store for you now as a family cannot be fully know or seen. The consequences of your decision to make room for A. will unfold in the years ahead on a journey that simply will go on throughout your whole life.
That journey may contain a whole raft of experiences and emotions. It’s great to have your parents here today and no doubt if we were to ask about the journey they have been on with you since you were A’s age we would hear stories of joy and laughter, but also maybe of times of frustration and sorrow and pain. Maybe we would also hear about how different the world is now to what it was when you were infants.
We cannot clearly see what the future will bring any of us but we hope that there will be times of great joy but also understand there may be difficult times of great difficulty sorrow.
In the midst of our experiences of life as Christians we believe that God makes room for us in God’s life. As we gather today celebrating A’s baptism connects us with a story bigger than our personal experiences of life.
God makes room for us not simply because we believe God made this world in which we live but in the gift of the incarnation when God becomes one of us. In less than two weeks time we celebrate and remember that Jesus was born. He is called in the biblical “God with us”. Jesus is God sharing in our human lives.
But it is more than that because as God shares in our lives God to make room within God’s life so that we might share in that. And I would suggest to you, to follow my theme, that God makes a supreme effort to o this, make room for us.
It is the hope that we find that God has made room for us and we too can share in God’s life that we celebrate today for A. but also with each other. In midst of everything that we hear and see and feel through our earthly existence the incarnation invites us to see beyond the present reality and find hope in this message – that we too have a share in God’s eternal and divine existence.
This is a vital message for us to hear on this day. In the midst of a rapidly changing world in which, despite this moment of joy, there is so much suffering and hardship and change occurring in celebrating A.’s baptism we look to God with hope.
When we see the bigger picture of what is occurring across the globe and in peoples’ lives everywhere. We know as celebrate this day 100s of children will have died from preventable causes; there is war and tension destroying the lives of millions; millions of refugees, fleeing horrific circumstances, have found themselves incarcerated in camps or detention centres as illegal immigrants, families in Connecticut are mourning yet another American gunman tragedy; the climate is warming, species are dying out; the way we communicate with one another is in flux.
We can blithely ignore all of these things occurring on our world, protected within the blessings of our own lives, or we can admit openly the concerns it raises for us and for our children and how we will raise them as followers of Christ and bearers of hope in this world.
A.’s baptism is an invitation to see that whatever life holds there is a promise of hope and peace and joy and love given to us by God that we can share in and experience now. It is also a reminder to look forward to a time yet to come in which the sufferings of this present age will pass.
And for all of us it is also an invitation to be an active part of that community of faith, the church, which helps to remember these things and God’s presence in our lives each and every day and to act on them as people who are caretakers of the good news of God’s love.
The good news is that God has gone to the effort of making room for us and for we who have any idea of what it means to make room for something in our lives we turn in grateful thanks and praise again to God and rejoice this day.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Photo: Judy Lockhart