“Reflections on the Baptism of Elyse Gloria Priest” given by the Rev. Joe Summers at The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation on December 17th, 2017. (Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent (B): Isaiah 61:1-4 & 8-11, Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24, The Magnificat, and John 1:6-8 & 19-28).
O God, from whom to be turned is to fall, to whom to be turned is to rise, and in whom to stand is to abide forever. Grant us in all our duties your help, in all our perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection, and in all our sorrows your peace. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, our Body, and our Blood, our Life and our Nourishment. Amen. –St Augustine.
Today we are celebrating the Holy Baptism of Elyse Gloria Priest, daughter of Megan Elyse Williams and Matthew William Priest, so she is the sermon, she is the good news, the grace, that we are being called to open ourselves so that our hearts and minds might be transformed. I do, however, want to talk about some of the connections between our Baptism of Elyse and Advent.
Advent is about preparing a way for God in our world. Through her baptism we are seeking to prepare a way for Elyse and the divine light in her.
In his baptism Jesus heard the heavens proclaim him God’s beloved, One with whom God was well pleased. Today we proclaim Elyse as pleasing to God and God’s beloved, now and forever.
We pray that, knowing herself as God’s beloved, as of infinite worth, will help strengthen Elyse to reject the false selves, those idols we are tempted to try to be in order to be considered worthy in the eyes of others.
Baptism is about claiming our common humanity as children of God, children of the Most High, children of the king of king’s and inheritors of God’s Kingdom. As we heard Mark proclaim last week, for the Kingdom of God to grow on earth requires a social leveling so that all can know their divine worth. Through baptism we reject the powers that would tempt us to view ourselves as superior or inferior to others.
The whole world in which some are considered worthy of being recognized as human and others are not, was understood by the early church to be the work of the devil. In the early church when people denounced the devil and all his works, as part of the baptismal service, they would turn to the west and spit. At this point Elyse may only be able to drool, but we hope that the day will come which she has that kind of bold spirit that’s able to face the devil and spit.
As we hear in Isaiah today, that bold Spirit is God’s spirit. It is the spirit that seeks to bring good news to the oppressed, liberty to captives, release to prisoners and to heal the sick and broken hearted. It is this Spirit that in baptism we ask to guide us and lead us that we may build up the ancient ruins and raise up the former devastations that we see everywhere in our world.
It is this Spirit that is the garment of salvation. It gives us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” because a faint spirit is not going to turn this world around and simply going around feeling bad is not going to break the cycle of loss and recrimination and shame that holds the peoples of our world captive.
Advent is a season in which we hear that new realities don’t come from nowhere, we have to prepare for them, we have to work for them.
Mary is the image of the power of this kind of work and preparation for the new to be born. We just sang her song of power and praise that we call “The Magnificat” because Mary begins her song by saying “My soul glorifies the Lord, my soul magnifies the Lord.” Hearing that proclamation we know it was not an accident that Jesus, despite being born out of wedlock of a poor family and a teenage mother, in a nation under bondage to the Roman empire, should grow up to know God’s spirit living and speaking and acting in and through him.
For Jesus, John’s call to turn away from sins was not enough, we needed to turn towards our belovedness in God. But John the Baptist is also an image of the power of this kind of work and preparation. John seems to have been an absolutely ferocious man, willing to stand up to empire knowing what the cost would be. Yet at the same time we see this tender humility in him: “I am not the One. I’m just here to bear witness to the light, to prepare the way of the Lord.”
That’s part of what baptism is all about, God coming to us in the form Elyse, our committing ourselves to honoring Elyse as an expression of what is infinitely precious. Matt and Megan and Jenna and Daniel and all of us committing ourselves, to doing all in our power, to honor God in her, that she might grow into the fullness of her unique humanity, even here, even now, in the midst of this society and world which so clearly devalues simply being human, but particularly female humanity, particularly people who are poor, disabled, or different in terms of their race, class, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Children are born in the image of our wild God “I am who I am, I will be who I will be.” We never want Elyse’s wild spirit to be tamed even though, as parents, family, friends, the church or society, it may cause us a lot of grief or trouble at different stages of her life. We’re saying we don’t want Elyse conform to how things are, rather–the world and we must change–for her to be who she was created to be. The new creation begins with honoring each for the unique in all creation miracle that they are.
So let us this da y pledge our lives to honoring Elyse and all the children of our world. Let us also pledge to honoring ourselves and who we are, as children of the Most High, that through God’s spirit we might overthrow the reign of oppression, injustice and neglect and help usher in, what Isaiah today calls the day of the Lord, the time when justice and peace and love reign here on earth.
For it we are willing God is able, and if we are ready, God has already gone ahead to prepare a way for us. Amen