The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany,
February 16th, 2020
Dear Audrey and Kuyper,
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
My dearest children, today we celebrated your baptisms. Pastor Nick poured water over you “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and you were brought into the Church, the body of Christ. I’m sure you have a lot of questions, or will at some point in any case.
Before I talk to you about why your baptisms are important and what they mean, I want you to know that your Mom and I love you very much. For as many nights as we can remember to do so, I’ve laid my hand on both of your heads and said as part of a blessing, “You are my beloved daughter, my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.” I do this for a few reasons.
First, so that you remember—no matter what you havedone that day, good choices or bad choices—we deeply and dearly love you and that that nothing will ever change our love for you. Know that you are safe in our love for you.
Second, and related, that we are well-pleased with you, again, regardless of what you’ve done. You don’t have to earn our love, and you don’t have to earn our disposition towards you. Know that you are safe in our affections towards you.
Third, to speak over you the same words that we have received from God in our baptisms, so that you can hear God speaking through us to you. When Jesus was baptized, the voice of the Father spoke over him, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” When we receive Christ by faith and are united to him in our baptism, God speaks these same words to and over us. In Christ, we are the beloved of God and with us he is well-pleased.
This is who we are now: the children of God. And, as children of God, we no longer have to try and “earn” God’s love because we are already dearly and deeply loved; and he is pleased with us.
So, most importantly, know that you are safe in the loving arms of our God and Lord, who loves you perfectly, even as your Mommy and Daddy fail to perfectly love you. Which brings us back to your baptism.
Before you were baptized, your Mommy and I made some promises—to God, for you, and before the Church. Here is what we promised to do with the Lord’s help:
Today, on behalf of Audrey and Kuyper, you shall make vows to renounce the devil and all his works, to trust God wholeheartedly, and to serve him faithfully. It is your task to see that they are taught, as soon as they are able to learn, the meaning of all these vows, and of the Faith that you will profess as revelaed in the Holy Scripture. They must come to put their faith in Jesus Christ, and learn the Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and all other things that a Christian ought to know, believe, and do for the welfare of their souls.
It is our duty and delight to answer your questions “with the Lord’s help,” just as we vowed today. Where we fail, blame—if indeed that is the right word—us; when we are successful, know that this is because the Lord has kept up his part of the deal. He is the one who provides the help.
With that, though, I guess it’s time to get on with it.
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
We believe that God created the entire universe and everything in it. The world was filled with God’s glory—with beauty, awe, and goodness. It was, as Holy Scripture tells us, “very good.”
Then, we—human beings, represented in Adam and Eve—made a very bad choice to not trust in God. We wanted to do things our way and we disobeyed God, even though God knows what is best for us. In that dreadful moment everything changed. Our relationship to God, to each other, and to this beautiful world were all broken in an instant. And, ever since that dreadful moment, every one—including me, your mom, and yes, the both of you—have been born into this world with the desire to do things our own way and disobey the God who loves us. Since that day a great shadow has covered the world and eclipsed our hearts.
But here’s the good news: God was not surprised by our disobedience and he loves us far too much to give us fully over to it. He set out, immediately, to rescue the world and, as we read in The Lord of the Rings, to make everything sad come untrue.
This is the rescue plan God determined to do before the world even existed: that God the Father would send God the Son, Jesus, to become a human being and be born like us, to live the life we should live. Jesus never made a bad choice. Jesus always obeyed God. He was perfect when we could not be so that he could take the punishment we deserve for our sin: death, the result of sin clashing against holiness.
Jesus died on the cross and paid our penalty so that we wouldn’t have to. Then, three days after he died, God raised Jesus from the dead, giving us assurance that our penalty really has been paid. After he was raised from the dead, Jesus ascended to heaven where he is even now to rule over the universe as the one, true King.
After the Ascension, God the Holy Spirit was sent into the world to be with every person who would ever believe in Jesus and trust him for their salvation. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us who repents of their sin and is baptized, helping us to live as God intends for us to live, reminding us of our sin, helping us to ask for forgiveness when we do sin, and assuring us that God forgives us when we confess our sins to him and ask for his help.
Light began to break through into the world, and it began to chase away the shadow.
Two-thousand years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, God is still doing what he promised to do. Peter said that “the promise is for you and your children.” You, Audrey and Kuyper, are part of that promise. That is why we had you baptized today. If you haven’t yet trusted God for the forgiveness of your sin and that “everything sad will come untrue,” then we are trusting God’s promise that he will awake the seed of grace you each received today in his own timing, so that the confession of your baptism will match the confession of your heart and mouth. For,
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Right now, you, Audrey, believe to some degree all that I’ve said so far; and you, Kuyper, to the degree that you are able, mimic the things we believe. You both have a beautiful, child-like faith (for a child-like faith it is!). But it is also the faith of your parents. As you get older you will have to own your own faith. And part of believing that one day Jesus will make “everything sad untrue” is that you will come to realize that there are sad things which God must make untrue. Or, to say it another way, it means that there are truly sad things.
I would be doing the two of you a disservice and going against the vows I made at your baptism to pretend this isn’t so. There is still beauty in the world, there is much awe and wonder—and that is by the grace of God; this world also contains deep sadness. Because sin has come into our world, you have to try much harder to find the beauty and awe and wonder in the world. For many, the child-like eyes that are required to see such things become blinded by sadness. My prayer for you is that you keep within you the fire of child-like wonder—that the furnace of your awe forever burns bright and that you seek for and see the beauty still in the world.
You will become more acquainted with sadness as you get older. You will experience more of the shadow. Your Daddy knows much about shadows—the shadow of never knowing his own daddy, the shadow of a deep sadness we call depression, the shadow of chronic pain in gout. Those stories are for another time—for when you’re older. Because you are just now starting to catch glimpses of the sadness this world offers and your capacity for holding onto sadness is beautifully small. When that day comes and you get a bitter taste of that shadow, however, know that Mommy and Daddy are already acquaintences with it. Know that you can come and talk to us about whatever you need to. Even, and esepcially, the sad things.
So, for now, it is enough to know that there is a shadow ovwr this world. But there’s the thing about shadows: they can only exist where light is not shining. Once the light comes, the shadow cannot help but flee.
St. John, a friend of Jesus, wrote to the Church to remind us of what Jesus once taught him about the light and the dark:
Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
This is the message we have heard from [Jesus] and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
1 John 1.5
…even the darkness will not be dark [for God, for whom] the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to [him]
My dear daughter and son—we have read of White Witches and 100 year winters; we have read about the darkness of Mordor, faced the horror of the Nazgul, and looked directly into the eye of Sauron. You have braved all thiese things because you know that where there are white witches, there is also a safe-but-untamed Lion; that when the battle seems lost, you might find the unexpected arrival of Gandalf the White on the back of Shadowfax, coming with the sun; that when we are tempted by the Power of the Ring, there is one who—though we give in—feels the same temptation we do and yet overcomes its power to destroy the ring once and for all.
All the great stories are just a retelling of the greatest story.
Here is what I hope you discover: Jesus is the safe-but-untamed Lion, the One who having been “tempted just as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15), and is the One who promises to rage war against the dragon. He is the One who will return riding on a white horse with the army of heaven to finally destroy the beast and have the final victory over all the deep sadness of the world (Revelation 19.11-21).
And do you know what happens after that victory?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold! The dwelling place of God is among [his people]. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Or, as we will read in The Return of the King, when Samwise awakens to see Gandalf:
"Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"
"A great shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.
Audrey, Kuyper: it is our (Mommy and Daddy’s) unfortunate duty in this world to prepare you as best as we are able and with the Lord’s help, to know and navigate the reality that there is a great sadness and shadow to this world. But, more than that, it is our greater duty and delight to proclaim to you that everything sad is really and truthfully going to come untrue; that at the return of Jesus the great shadow will depart, never to be seen again. Indeed, on the day that Jesus returns, that new city where God dwells with his people will have
no need of sun or moon to shine, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
And, really, this is why you were baptized today. Yes, because Jesus tells us to be baptized. Yes, because the promise is to us and our children. Yes, because by baptism we receive the sacramental grace to be part of God’s Church, and that when our baptism and faith come together, there is forgiveness and the cleansing of our sin. These are all part of a greater reality, through. A truer truth. A euchatastrophe: one day, death will die and those who trust in God shall be raised to live forever with him. Our baptism is the first taste of what it will be like when God brings to pass the promise he has made: Everything sad will come untrue.
My beloved son and daughter, in light of your baptism, and the vows your mom and I made today—before God, before his Church, and before you—I end this letter with these truths (some of which may only make sense later):
- Your Mommy and I love you more than you can possibly know, and you will never do anything to cause us to stop loving you. Nothing.
- Your Mommy and I are sinners, saved by the grace of God alone, and we will fail you. I pray that when we do, we are able to repent openly before you and that you are able to forgive us.
- When Scripture calls God a “father,” know that it is I, your Daddy, who should be learning from God what being a father is like, and not that God is like me. We find it easy to view God in light of our own fathers’ sins. God is not like me. I am trying to be like him.
- Don’t be afraid to come us with your fears and your doubts. Even if you are doubting about Jeus. Even if you are questioning your faith. Even if you cannot believe any longer. Nothing will cause us to stop loving you. Nothing.
- Jesus loves you, this I know for the Bible tells me so. This truth is a pool shallow enough that you can freely come and drink without fear of drowning, and deep enough that should you dive down into it, you will never reach the bottom of its glory and majesty (to parapharse St. Jerome). We never move past this truth.
- Everything sad is going to come untrue.
Finally, just as we say every night:
Good night, sweet dreams, I love you so much.