Monday, December 04, 2006

The Symbols of Baptism

This talk was given on Advent Sunday, which also included the baptism of a five year old girl.


Today is Advent Sunday, and it marks the start of the new Christian year. And like Advent, baptism marks a new beginning, because it marks a new stage in our journey with God.

There is a lot of symbolism in baptism, which act as a way of reminding us about what the Christian life is all about, the cross, water and light.

The Cross – When we are baptised we receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads.

The Cross is the badge of the Christian faith. Here in St Martin’s we have a large cross on our wall, and it is there to remind us that Jesus died for you and me. We all fall short of God’s standards, we all do things which we know hurt God. We call this sin. And what our sin does, is create a barrier between us and God. Paul in his letter to the Romans writes that the consequence of sin is death, it means being cut off from God’s love for eternity. But because God loves us so much, he didn’t want us to suffer this death, so instead he choose to die for us, taking on himself our guilt, so that we might live. And so through Jesus’ death we have the chance of a fresh start.

Here in St Martin’s our cross is empty, this reminds us that Jesus didn’t stay dead for long, but that he is alive today, and that we can meet him.

So in baptism we make the sign of the cross on the forehead to remind us that Jesus died for us.

Water - Without water none of us would survive for very long. There could be no life without water. And in baptism, water reminds us that it is God who gives us life. Jesus said that he came to bring us life in all its fullness. And one of the things that baptism symbolises is the new life we have when we become Christians. Baptism is also a symbol of death, as we go into the waters of baptism it symbolises going into the grave, dying to the old way of life, a life without God, a life of sin, and as we are brought up out of the water, it is a symbol of being raised to new life, starting a fresh with Jesus. And that is why when we pray over the water, we say ‘We thank you Father, for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. And through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.'

The other thing that we use water for is cleansing. We use water to wash ourselves and our clothes so we can stay nice and clean. And in baptism we are cleansed from our sins, it is as though they are washed away, so that through Jesus’ death on the cross we are made clean.

Light - The final symbol in baptism is the giving of a lighted candle. Light, like water, is essential for life. Without light there could be no life on this planet. Also light is essential if we are to see where we are going. It can be very scary and difficult walking down a road at night on a pitch black night, where you can’t see what is in front of you.

Jesus said that he ‘is the light of the world’, in other words he is the one who guides us in life. And as Christians, we look to Jesus to show us how to live our lives. He is the one who guides us.

Jesus also said that as his followers, we also are like lights in the world. We are meant to carry the light of Christ out into our world, to our homes, schools, and work places, by demonstrating to others the love of God.

At the end of the baptism service we receive a candle, and we will say these words. 'God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light. You have received this light of Christ, walk in the light all the days of your life. Shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father'.

(And once the light of Christ has been lit, nothing can ever put it out (as a visual illustration of this I used a relighting candle that reignites whenever it is blown out)


So as you can see baptism is full of significance and symbolism. As N is baptised lets reflect on what our own baptism means for us. To think again about why the cross is important, to reflect on the love God has for each one of us. To think about how through the waters of baptism we are cleansed and given new life, and how as Christians we have received Christ’s light into our live.

And I’m going to invite you, as you come up to receive communion to splash yourself with some of the water in this font, to remind yourself of your own baptism, and recommit yourself to serve and follow God. So that you may also carry his light out into the world. Amen.

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