Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Letter for Willow (The Birth of John the Baptist, 24 June 2018)

As has been my custom over the years, I have written a letter to Willow who was to be baptized on Sunday, 24 June 2018.  Unfortunately her brother came down with chicken pox and we had to re-schedule her baptism for another day.

Even though I could have prepared something else for my last Sunday at Saint Faith's, I could not help but hear the voice of my mentor, Louis Weil, who taught me that baptism is the heart of Christian life.  What better way to say 'farewell' than to write to a young child some thoughts about what it means to be a follower of Jesus?

24 June 2018

Dear Willow,
            Today was supposed to be the day of your baptism, but when your brother, Dominic, came down with chicken pox, we had to make other plans.  These things happen and, even though it’s disappointing for me that I won’t be able to baptize you today, my last Sunday at Saint Faith’s, I still want to write this letter to you.  I know that you will be baptized soon and I hope, in a few years time, that your mother and father will read these words to you, so that you know something of what it means to be baptized into the Christian family.
            But let me start with a story.  A long time ago a man name Zechariah and a woman named Elizabeth really wanted to have a child.  But even though they had been together a long time and even though they had prayed every day for a child, they never had one.
            After many years Zechariah was praying one day and an angel appeared and told him that God had heard their prayers and Elizabeth would soon become pregnant with a son.  And you know what?  It happened. Nine months later Elizabeth gave birth to a son, whom they named John.           
            Zechariah and Elizabeth loved John and raised him to love God.  They knew that he was a special person to whom God had given a special job.  The job that God had given John was to be a prophet.  Sometimes we call a person a ‘prophet’ because we think that they can tell us what’s going to happen in the future.  But John was a different kind of prophet.  It was John’s job to prepare people for the coming of his cousin, Jesus.
            Now we believe that God sent Jesus to teach us how to grow up in the way that God wants us to be, to show us how to treat other people with kindness and respect, to live his life as an example for us to follow.  So, to make things a little easier for Jesus, God asked John, who was just a little older than Jesus, to go around the towns and villages sharing the good news that Jesus was coming.  And this is what John did until Jesus began his own work of teaching and of showing people how to live in God’s love.
            Willow, when you are baptized, God makes you a prophet just like John.  You will discover that there are many people in the world who do not know how to grow up, who do not treat other people with kindness and respect, who do not have any good examples to follow.  All Christians, whether we are grown up or growing up, share in Jesus’ work of teaching and of showing how to live in God’s love.  When we do this, we are acting as prophets, people who show others what God is doing in their world, in their communities and in their lives.
            Being a prophet is not easy.  Some people in the world do not believe in God or do not believe that God cares about the world.  They may not really want to hear what you or any follower of Jesus has to say.  They may actually say some unkind things about you and to you.  But God still loves them and God wants us to love them as well.
            Some people in the world do believe in God, but some things have happened in their lives that have made them afraid of God or disappointed in God.  They won’t say anything unkind about you or to you, but they will have a hard time hearing what you have to say about how you have experienced God’s love.  It will be your job, as well as my job and the job of every Christian, to share with them what we know:  God’s love in the beauty of the world, God’s love in the way people care for each other, God’s love in the way we forgive each other when things go wrong, God’s love in the way we learn new and wonderful things about the world in which we live.
            When John was born, his father Zechariah was so happy that he gave thanks to God and then said to his little boy, “You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare [the] way.  You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.  Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1.76-79)  Willow, you are as much a prophet as John was.  You are someone who will show people how forgiving makes us stronger and better people.  You will bring God’s light into the shadows that make it difficult for people to experience God’s love.
            I wish that I could be at Saint Faith’s when you are baptized.  I would love to see the happiness you already have given to your parents and grandparents and the joy that everyone at Saint Faith’s will have on your special day.  But even though I won’t be here, I do know this.  You will grow up into the person God’s wants you to become. You will treat other people with kindness and respect.  You will live as an example of God’s love.
            When you do this, you will be a prophet who makes it possible for other people to know that God does exist, that God does care for this world, that God remains faithful to us even when we are afraid or disappointed.  And you will find that you are not alone.  There are many other people in the world who prepare the way for Jesus to come into our lives.  I hope that you will find a place like Saint Faith’s where you can grow and learn how to be a good prophet.  Let me tell you, we need a lot of prophets these days who can work with God to make this world better.
            John’s story ended many years ago.  My story at Saint Faith’s ends today.  But your story, Willow, has just begun.

Your friend,

Richard +

(The Rev’d Dr) Richard Geoffrey Leggett
Rector of the Parish of St. Faith’s
Vancouver BC

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