Baptism

Sermon at St James, Colwall, 3 before Advent 2010

It’s many years since I had to do a sermon for a baptism, so today I thought I would like to share with you my thoughts on what a christening is all about. The first thing that came into my head was the word joy. Whenever we have a christening I notice that the congregation has a big smile on their faces. A christening is a party – we are happy because the family is happy. It’s a bit like Christmas – we are all happy that a new life has been brought into the world, with all the potential it has to change it for the better.

The second word that came into my mind was thanks. A christening is a time to give thanks not only for the new life but also for a safe delivery. Giving birth is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do. In the past it has been almost as risky as getting married to Henry VIII. Now, it is much, much safer and we can give thanks not only for this particular delivery but also for all the work of the medical professions over the years in making it so.

Of course, the first few months of life are dangerous for the baby too. I remember there was a big campaign in hospitals a few years ago to bring about the reduction in perinatal mortality. They had a big poster with a smiling baby on it and a caption “The first year of your life is the most dangerous!” This rather laid it open to graffiti and some wit, with typical medical humour, had taken out his felt tip pen and added “The last year of your life is not without its hazards.”

Well, we can certainly give thanks for a new life and a safe delivery, but the main point of christening is dedication. There is tremendous potential in a newborn child, a potential to change the world for better or worse. When we christen a child we are entering them on the side of the angels. We want them to do good and not harm. We want them to care for the environment and not destroy it. We want them to be concerned for other people. We want them to seek justice for the world and not be only concerned with their own self interest. In a word we want them to be good or, as we would say, to follow Jesus Christ.

So in a christening we can be joyful, thankful, and dedicate a young life to doing good. But there is one final element in a christening which is to enter the young person into the community of those who are also seeking to do good, both inside and outside the church. We are all making this journey as best we can and sometimes we stumble and need help along the way. The community is there to give support and to supply examples of people we can all follow. We may not be able to give our lives to work for the poor like Mother Teresa or to have the courage of those people working to give aid in countries where there is conflict, but in our own limited way we ought to be able to say, I wish I were like that. And the community is there to reassure you that this is not a stupid idea and to help you make your own contribution to the good of the world.

Joy, thankfulness, dedication and community: that’s what a christening is all about. So let’s cut the talking and go on with the service.