Sermon Preached by the Reverend Daphne B. Noyes at The Church of the Advent
Sunday, January 9, 2011, The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord

Many of us are parents; all of us are children. From the moment each new being emerges from the life-giving waters of the womb, both parent and child embark on a life-altering journey that is emotional, intellectual, psychological, physiological, and perhaps most of all spiritual in nature.

So I want to speak today of the relationships between parents and children. First, let me beg to differ with Tolstoy’s claim that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”[1] In my experience, this simply is not true.

The joy of one family is the sorrow of another. The shame of one family is the pride of another. The hopes of one family are the fears of another. The bonds among members of one family are the barriers of another.

Not all of us are parents, but all of us are children. We have our earthly mothers and fathers, or those who served us as parents, and as Christians we have a God who calls Jesus “Son.” We have a God who Jesus calls “Father.”

Whether you are a parent, or a child, or both, you know full well both the truths and the secrets of your own family. The knowledge that has been shared, or the knowledge that has been locked away, hidden in a dark corner of someone’s soul.

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The baptism of Jesus is marked by an astounding declaration: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

• Astounding, because of the very words themselves: Jesus’ relationship to God is revealed. “This is my Son.”

• Astounding, because the words are not of a parent addressing a child, but of a parent’s declaration of the child’s identity and parental love to all who can hear. The early equivalent, perhaps, of bumper stickers that boast, “My child is student of the month at XYZ School.”

• Astounding, as, for the first time in scripture, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make a shared appearance and are simultaneously revealed.

• Astounding, because these are the words Jesus carries with him as he begins his ministry, still wet behind the ears. He begins not with miraculous accomplishments or record-shattering achievements, but with raw, naked encounters with isolation and temptation.

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Knowing the complexities of the parent-child relationship, and believing that we are made in God’s image and likeness, and that each one of us is a child of God, how is this phrase – this is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased – how is this woven into the fabric of our lives?

I suggest in two fundamental ways: one, through absence; two, through presence.

Let me speak of absence. My own mother of blessed memory recalled sorrowfully that she never once heard the words “I love you” from her father. How many other children have longed to hear these words of love, acceptance, and reassurance, and encountered only silence? How many parents have struggled to speak those words, but have found themselves unable to, stymied by the strictures of culture, tradition, or personal limitations?

Yet in the marrow of each parent’s bones is the knowledge: This is my child. We belong together, I to the child and the child to me. We share a bond that cannot be severed, even in the face of betrayal, estrangement, or rejection.

Listen: Are any of these words familiar to you?

This is my child, the Beloved. Even if I am not able to demonstrate my love in a way that is healthy or nurturing, you are beloved. Even if you take my presence for granted, or ignore me, or insult me, you are beloved. May God guide me in loving you more deeply each day.

This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. These words did not come to me immediately, when you came out to the family. I could not speak these words when you entered into a relationship against my will. I could not shape these words when you made a choice that I thought was disastrous – and it was. Or it wasn’t. But because you are made in God’s image, and I am made in God’s image, I will find a way to tell you that I am well pleased. I will carry sorrows and pains and disappointments in my heart, but I will wrap them tenderly in the knowledge that we are both God’s children, and that God sent Jesus to redeem not only each one of us individually, but all our fractured relationships, broken hearts, and shattered dreams.

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No parent here is God, and no child is the Messiah. Yet with the pattern and presence of their unity and steadfast love to inspire and guide us, I pray that each one of us will one day be able to speak, or hear, the words we long for:

This is my child, my beloved, in whom I am well-pleased.

Amen.


(1) Anna Karenina