John the Baptist, as has been well document, is a popular character in the Revised Common Lectionary. So popular, in fact, that in Year A, we get to hear the same story about his encounter with Jesus two weeks in a row. Last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, gave us Matthew’s version. This week, we get John the Evangelist’s take on the events. Usually, I would begrudge this situation, and that will likely come as the week wears on and a sermon feels out of reach, but this morning, I’m still basking in the glow of the power of a baptism.
See, a funny thing happened on my way to my first service at Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As these things happen, the Senior Warden and I negotiated a start date that allowed me some time to move and settle, while not crushing either my savings account or the church’s willingness to wait for me. The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord seemed appropriate, given that it too marked the beginning of something new. Immediately, I decided that we would follow the rubric on 312 of the Book of Common Prayer and substitute the Renewal of Baptismal Vows for the Nicene Creed at both services. Ah, but wait, there was a young child whose parents were desirous of baptism, and so it was scheduled at the 8 am service. But wait again, the godparents were unavailable on the 8th, so we would wait.
At about 7:45 on Sunday morning, a godparent arrived, gift bag in hand, certain that the baptism was happening. Roughly 5 minutes later, mom, dad, and baby arrived. Grandparents were there too, but none of us really thought a baptism was happening. It had been postponed. Then, at 7:57, as the altar party gathered for prayer, one of the chalice bearers, who was facing the family, spoke up. “They are putting a baptismal gown on that baby,” she said. So guess what? We baptized a baby at 8am. Thanks to a great team of altar guild members, an awesome deacon, and others who were willing to simply go with the flow, we pulled off baptismal prep in 3 minutes.
As we reached the point in the service when the baptism happens, I took baby Ryder into my arms, and something powerful happened. There wasn’t a dove descending from heaven. No voice spoke from above. Instead, as I held that unfamiliar child in the middle of an unfamiliar space, I saw the face of Jesus. Just like John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson for Sunday, I realized that God shows up in unexpected places and at unexpected times. It was, as I told friends later, glorious and hectic and maddening and all the stuff the church is supposed to be, and it was so because God arrived, in the person of a little baby, and invited us to show him hospitality. Thanks be to God for a wonderful start, even if it was a little harried, and for the opportunity to see Christ in the face of one of his most precious children.