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November 29, 2009
There was nothing wrong with the baby's lungs: he cried lustily throughout his baptism. I always take this as a very good sign, as an old lady in the parish when I was a girl used to say that babies were scaring away evil spirits if they cried at their baptisms. The evidence has borne this out: we were not troubled by evil spirits in that church, nor in any other church I've served in nearly thirty years of ordained ministry. Precisely. The babies have cried them all away.

The baby's parents usually don't see it that way. Good money has been spent on a tiny white outfit in an expensive fabric, unless the one that's been in the family ever since George Washington wore it at his christening is taken out of mothballs for the occasion. People have come from far away to take part in this. They want to remember this as the sweet and holy moment it is. Surely it is not too much to ask of You-Know-Who that he sleep in heavenly peace until it's over.

We are told that people in the ancient church sometimes waited to be baptised until they were safely on their deathbeds, and all the really good opportunities for sin were behind them. It seemed to them to be skating on very thin ice to risk falling into sin after they'd been washed in the Blood of the Lamb. But we feel differently about it: noisy as it is to send the evil spirits packing, odd as it may seem to participate as an infant in a sacrament and not understand a bit of what's going on, we persist in infant baptism, cleansing little people from sin before we even know what compromises they will make in life. All we can know for sure is that they will make some. We know this because we remember our own, and have never known anyone who did not. The church is a herd of pretty imperfect people.

Imperfect, but reflective. Capable of learning much from our imperfections. We learn best from them, in fact -- the stuff we learn the hard way sticks with us. We might prefer to learn any other way besides falling flat on on our faces, but there it is. We are the way we are. So they continue to come, the babies in their shiny white outifts and soft new shawls, pure and sweet, loud as all get-out. They arrive as sinless as humans ever get. It's downhill from here on out, sin-wise. And God seems content to welcome us all in anyway.


Would you like some encouragement for your own daily prayer practice? Every Advent, I offer readers a chance to receive the greeting "Let us bless the Lord!" from me every morning. As you may know, it is the way in which many worship services end, a signal to venture forth from prayer back into the world, refreshed. When you receive my greeting, you answer back with "Thanks be to God!" That's it. It's not rocket science, but sometimes just those few words are enough to put you in mind of receiving the gift of prayer God wants to give you.

If you'd like to receive "Let Us Bless the Lord." just ask, in a reply to this eMo. Be sure to give me the email address you want me to use.
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