Where Can You Find a Beginning?
Good morning. Guess what is happening after this service today? A baptism. Not in here, of course, but outside. In front of the church, underneath our tent, I’ll bring out a porcelain font that had been sitting in a hall closet for many a year until this pandemic. It’s now been used every month since August.
Baptisms mark beginnings. Baptisms orient us towards the future. Baptisms ask us to make or renew promises towards the beginning of that future. And for the most part baptisms are for babies or toddlers. In general, we expect kids! And that’s why we love them, isn’t it?
Seeing children at church, in children’s chapel, and especially when we have baptisms – well, it’s one of the things I miss most about not being together. For I’m sure you remember that at baptisms we invite all of the kids to come close, gather round our font and watch what we are about to begin!
And eagerly they do! They are excited to because it’s a new thing. It doesn’t happen every Sunday. And for all of us gathered it’s such a gift to see those looks of hopeful anticipation on their faces: What’s going to happen over here?
We mark a new beginning at a baptism. What is God up to? How will this child grow into the person God created them to be? In what ways will this child of God share their unique gifts – their unique spirit and personality and personhood in our world?
Baptisms joyfully announce a beginning. Just like our gospel this morning “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God.”
Somewhere in your life my friend there is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Where is it? Maybe it is a beginning that you need to celebrate. But maybe, it is a beginning that you simply need to acknowledge, so that you can lean on God and ask for God’s help, which is also what we do at a baptism, in making a way through.
How do we give thanks for the beginnings when I think we feel right now, more like we are in the middle? In the middle of pandemic and this deadly surge. In the middle of a holiday season where nothing is as it should be. In the middle of the good news of vaccines that strengthen our belief in the other side of “this” yet weary because we know there is still much more of “this” we have to keep going through.
Where is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, light of Christ in our lives today?
It may help us to remember the context of that first sentence in Mark’s gospel. A verse from two thousand years ago, that is still proclaimed today.
That courageous proclamation was penned by one child of God who knew the experience of a community in its entirety. And the beginning could not be proclaimed until the end of the experiences that community had lived through.
The experience of grief at the foot of the cross. The experience of failure because Jesus died. The Messiah’s ministry did not go has his disciples had hoped, expected or longed for. The experience of fear and anxiety by the women at the tomb who found it empty and fled because terror and amazement had seized them.
It was in the midst of that challenging and lonely context that a faithful person called on their strength and resilience to make meaning of what they had seen. That what’s faith is, making meaning of our experiences and discovering the good news that is there for us to behold. Good news, like children, often surprises us.
In a context very different than scripture some of you may know an iconic pop song from the late 1990s, “Closing Time” by Semisonic. I’ll spare you from singing it, just Google it. It was very popular and often played when it’s time to go home. There’s a line in the lyrics, “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
But there is another line, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” which connects with what I’m talking about. Now, what most people don’t know is that the songwriter, Dan Wilson, his inspiration for the song had nothing to do with last call. He wrote the song about the birth of his daughter. Because when that happened, as parents know, one chapter of your life definitively ends so a new one can begin.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
We would not have the beginning of the good news of Jesus if we didn’t have the end. Even when we gather for the joyful celebration of a baptism, we can be sure, there were a lot of endings before that child arrived at their beginning.
The beginning of the good news is anytime you hold fast to that truth. The beginning of the good news in whenever we trust - God with us – Immanuel – which is always and also our future.
This second Sunday of Advent, I encourage us to celebrate and mark beginnings in our lives right now. There is a prayer from the baptism service that I want to offer as a practice for doing so. Just turn to p. 308 of your Book of Common Prayer. At baptisms, we pray it on behalf of the child, we are praying for them. But I want to suggest that in these days, we pray it for ourselves, because the prayer names the faithful ways we can open ourselves to seeing the light of Christ within us and around us as we prepare the way.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon us, your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised us to the new life of grace. Sustain us, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give us an inquiring and discerning heart;
Give us the courage to will and to persevere;
Give us a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.
May we find again and again the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God. Amen.