by Reverend Jesse Halsey
Home and home life are at the heart of our religion. Jesus put them there.
All the natural love that builds human homes comes from God, the Source of all goodness and blessing, and this God, Jesus taught us to call “Father.” The most engaging and meaningful words that fell from His lips were these: “My Father’s House.” “Home,” in a word, is his synonym for heaven. All the relations of earth, if ordered after the divine patterns, can best be expressed in home language: God is our Father, men are brothers, and brotherhood is the Christian ideal for all humanity.
That must have been a lovely home in Galilee where He grew up! It was humble in all its appointments, but rich in that priceless treasure which alone can make any house, humble or pretentious, into a true home. Love and mutual trust, reverence for God and for goodness dwelt beneath that roof. Jesus’ experience of life in that home and His close fellowship with God, His Father, led Him to appraise home life at the highest evaluation ever put on it. A Christian home is the divine ideal come to fruition and the home-ideal is Jesus’ picture of the relation that should exist in the human brotherhood that fuses into the Kingdom of God.
The abiding love of [two people], unchanged through the changing years, is the highest upreach of our race biologically considered, and the creation of that lovely fabric that we call home, is man’s greatest achievement in all his social outreach and upreach.
Kate Douglas Wiggin has described the creation of a family in this lovely passage: “In a true family circle a father and mother first clasp each other’s hands, liking well to be thus clasped; then they stretch out a hand on either side, and these are speedily grasped by children, who hold one another firmly, and complete the ring. The minute that two, three, four, five, join in, the roundness grows, and the merriment, too, and the laughter, and the power to do things.”
Love deep and strong binds the family together and in spite of stress and strains imposed from without, unfailing love that endures “ever patient, ever kind” (as St. Paul would say) holds like a sheet anchor. The storms may beat upon that house but it is founded upon a rock, when it is founded on loyalty and love. Parents do more than transmit life. They teach their children the mother tongue just by their daily living and conversation; the cultural and moral and religious heritage of the centuries is transmitted in the same way.
Many are the symbols of affection and of unity that are practiced in every well ordered household—tokens of the deep and undergirding love. An engagement ring begins the series, then a wedding ring. Candles on a birthday cake, the Christmas tree, other red letter days of family celebration—these all have their place in forging a bond of union and in creating memories ineffaceable in passing years—a great and cumulative heritage.
In the Christian home there are added symbols of a faith that God, Who is Love, is the Author and Source of human love, and that all life’s loveliest and best things are His creation. Grace at table, family-prayers, a bed time prayer by the baby’s crib—“the first fond words our lips in childhood frame, are burdened with His name!” Christ is the unseen guest at every meal. Life’s highest experiences are those associated with the conscious recognition of God’s presence in the developing life of our own homes.
O happy home where Thou art loved the dearest!Thou loving Friend, and Saviour of our race,And where among the guests there never comethOne who can hold such high and honored place.O happy home, where Thou art not forgottenWhen joy is overflowing, full, and free;O happy home, where every wounded spiritIs brought, Physician, Comforter, to Thee.
THE SACREMENT OF BAPTISM
Life has many sacramental experiences but to the Christian Disciple there are two Sacraments preeminently. One of these is Baptism. For long centuries it has been the Christian custom to present little children in dedication to God in Holy Baptism. Sometimes this is done as perfunctory duty and custom, but it is intended to be meaningful in the highest measure—truly sacramental—an ordinance that under a simple form reveals a deep significance, “an outward sign of an inward grace.”
We are thinking not of magic but of a deep experience when we affirm this, and this has been tried and proven by scores of Christian generations. Parents who desire the best for their children (and what parent does not?) give their children every significant and valuable thing they possibly can.
More lasting than toys are memories. As the years pass, men and women find themselves living by the things their fathers and mothers did, even more than by what their mothers and fathers taught.
Baptism is a sacramental symbol of the many hopes and spiritual ambitions entertained by parents for their children. Water, indispensable to life; water, the symbol of cleansing, is used in this sacrament as bread and wine are used in the other. The outward form is important because it is symbolic not because it is magical. It is calculated to express an inner meaning and significance.
What, then, is the significance of Holy Baptism as administered to infants?
First, gratitude to God for the gift of new life; thanksgiving for all the lovely hopes that cluster around birth—the mystery of our being, the wonder of life; thanksgiving to God “in Whom we live and move and have our being.” A young woman who had lost her faith in God came, with the advent of her first baby, into a rapture of joy and said that she must find God again just so she might say, “Thank you.” God comes near to us in new blessings and we look up to Him in thanksgiving.
Then, all normal parents feel new responsibilities’ asserting themselves as they gladly face the tasks involved in the training of their children; gratitude seems akin to duty and duty takes wings in the presence of the birth of one’s own child. Obligation becomes privilege in the presence of childhood. “Trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our Home”; that is poetry—and near kin to religion—it expresses our feeling when we take a baby in our arms. Nothing is too good for our children, nothing would we leave undone when their welfare is considered.
Baptism is our testimony to the fact that our children are God’s children, and that he claims them as His own. We become children of God not by our won act or choice but by His. God has made a covenant with us to be our God as he was our father’s God. His promises are unto us and to our children. We are all members of the household of faith—one family of the Living God.
As of old Jesus said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” so we seem to hear our God and Father calling to us, inviting us to bring our children to Him in dedication. Baptism thus becomes the rite of initiation into the Christian Church. We are taught to believe in a God Who, not only binds us together in the bundle of life but intends to surround us in human families with the lovely and sustaining influences of things spiritual.
In Baptism, then, we present our children to God, consciously and willingly dedicating them to the will and purpose of God. In the same act, we consecrate our own lives to the high and holy duties of parenthood. We pray for grace to perform with wisdom and tact the duties of parents. A wise, loving, devout and faithful spirit maintained, by God’s grace, through the yeas will make a home the scene of pure affection, spiritual training, true religion.
Parents, in Baptism, take upon themselves the recognition of their high privilege with God’s help and blessing, of training their children as His children, by precept and by example to encourage their children to follow the things that are pure and true and honest and lovely; they engage to accompany their children to the House of God and in every way possible to help them live the Christian life.
The evil that inheres in our very nature we deprecate. In this “washing of water” we accept as the token of the cleansing and forgiving grace of our God. “The Mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children’s children.”
Thus we in our generation seek to recognize the faith and custom of the fathers under the form that they believed and we believe to have been divinely instituted—a Sacrament. Long ago it was said of one, whom we would seek to emulate, “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the ways of The Lord.” As Christian parents we seek to make our home an ideal Christian Home, knowing our own weakness we seek God’s help and blessing both for ourselves and for our children and so naturally bring our little ones in dedication to God and His service. “For the praises of God are unto us and to our children and to as many as our God shall call.”