1 January 2014Luke 2:15-21
“After eight days had passed it was time to circumcise the child, and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (v. 21)
It is clear from this passage that the traditions around childbirth were not only very important, but also lasted not just for a few days but for the forty days of many of the Jewish faith traditions. Here we have the beginning of the process. The excitement of the visitation of the shepherds is over and they have gone away rejoicing to tell the good news (the first evangelists?) and the day has come for the rabbi to come and circumcise the boy. We are not told the venue for the ceremony, although it would seem unlikely that the family were still living in the cattle shed. But despite the trauma of the birth, it is clearly important that circumcision on the eighth day was important to them, and they named the child Jesus as they had been told to do by the angel some months before. Six weeks or so later they would go from home, as would any family with a new born child, to the temple to present their child to the priests for a blessing and for Mary to be cleansed from the uncleanliness of childbirth and for normal life to be resumed.
It is in from this part of Luke's Gospel that the Church developed the traditions which have surrounded childbirth for many centuries. I personally was 'churched' six weeks after the birth of the first three of my children, nowadays such a service is termed "Thanksgiving after childbirth", sometimes separated from the Baptism of the child, sometimes included in the worship when the family presented themselves at church. These days this tradition has often gone, for the children who are brought for Baptism are often much older than the six weeks or so (which was the traditional pattern). Nevertheless, in my experience, parents who come asking for Baptism in general want to mark the birth of their child in a special place and, contrary to many opinions, find themselves drawn to the Church and to the God they scarcely know to give thanks. But is the Church willing to make these who come to bring their child or children welcome encouraging them with words of love to begin a new journey within the promises they make?
- Should the Church make it harder for parents to come to 'use' the church for Baptism when they have no real intention to become involved in the congregation? Why?
- How far should we make them welcome as friends when they come, rather than seeing them as strangers, so that they will want to come back and become part of the church family?
- Or should we offer infant Baptism only to those who are prepared to commit themselves to faith? Why?