It’s hard to believe that the Christmas season is over, and we are getting back into the usual routines. We’re sending our thank you notes and putting away our gifts. We’re going over our Christmas cards and making changes in the address books. How many of you still have your tree up? And then there are the gifts to put away. And some gifts we’re just not sure what to do with.
Did you ever receive a gift that just seemed a little strange? Maybe the person doesn’t know you very well. Someone saw it and bought it and you’re grateful they thought of you, but you don’t really think you will ever use it or wear it or eat it.
When you get a gift like that, there are only three things you can do with it.
You can put it in the attic and forget about it, you can take it back to the store, or you can re-gift it.
Each one of these choices has rules. And in these days following Christmas, it is wise to know what the rules are. If you choose to put the unwanted gift into the attic and forget about it, the only rule you have to follow is the one that requires that you have a good story if the person who gave that thing to you ask you why they haven’t seen you using it, or wearing it, or whatever is supposed to be done.
Returning something is more difficult, due to internet shopping and return policies.
The third choice, re-gifting, giving as a gift something that you received, a relatively new phenomenon, is fraught with perils, and some rules have developed in regard to re-gifting.
Jodi R.R. Smith of the etiquette consultancy Mannersmith says there are four basic rules for re-gifting:
1. The item needs to be new and unopened. “If you get a bottle of perfume or or aftershave, take a sniff, and decide you don’t like it, it’s no longer eligible for re-gifting.
2. Don’t re-gift just because you didn’t like it. “Only give someone a re-gift if it’s something you would have gone to the store and got for the person anyway.
3. The gift should be unwrapped and rewrapped for the new recipient. You don’t want them to find a card addressed to you from your cousin.”
4. Avoid a scenario like the one in a “Seinfeld” show. You do not under any circumstances want the original gifted and the re-gift recipient to meet in what could be defined as an awkward situation. Re-gifts should be done in separate social circles.
Why am I talking about gift-giving today, you might wonder?
Well, today our gospel reading is about the greatest gift ever given. It is called baptism and it can be re-gifted, that is the recipient can give it away to someone else, but it can never be returned. You can’t, in other words, be unbaptized.
For a lot of people, baptism is a gift that they don’t really know what to do with. People get it when they’re babies, but they aren’t sure what it is or how to use it. They really never understand or connect with it, so they stick it away in the attics of their lives and forget about it.
For others, baptism is like a pet rock or a Chia pet. It’s the gift they never really asked for and never really wanted. The baptism was given to them when they were too young to understand what was going on and now that they are old enough to know that they got it, they still don’t know how they feel about it, so they just kind of ignore it.
Some receive it in childhood, and when they get older, they try to give it back. They find other interests and drift away from church and religion. They think of it like the piano lessons they took as kids. They didn’t really do any harm, but they din’t do them all that much good either, because they didn’t practice and follow through.
So today, let’s look at baptism, not just the initial ceremony, but what it means. Baptism is a gift, but what kind of gift is it and what do we do with it once we have received it?
Baptism is basically three things: It is a symbol, it is a celebration, and it is an initiation.
First, it is a symbol.
It is a symbol of God’s grace, of God’s unconditional love. It is a symbol of God’s all-forgiving and accepting affection not just for humankind as a group but for each one of us individually.
Remember, in the earliest days of the ancient Christian church, baptism was done by immersion. It was a symbolic bath which represented the washing away of sin and a rinsing away of our old life and our rebirth into a new life. Since it’s a symbolic bath, it was decided that the symbol could be just as effective if we sprinkled or poured water on the Baptizer. God’s grace flows out and over the baptized person just the way the water flows out and over them. Baptism in our church often takes place when the child is a baby. We don’t have to wait until they can ask to be baptized any more than we would wait to love them until they asked to be loved. No, we love them before they ask for it, whether they want it or not. And so does God. God’s grace flows down and around and over them long before they ever realize it’s there, just like the water of baptism does, and whether they want it or not.
It’s a gift, given freely and without conditions.
Second, baptism is a celebration.
When we study baptism in confirmation classes, one of the things I ask the class is:
“What happens when you get baptized?” It’s a trick question because the answer is: “Nothing.”
It has already happened. Baptism doesn’t make something happen; it is a celebration of what has happened already. God has showered grace and love all over you and baptism is how we acknowledge and celebrate that fact.
We take some regular old water, and sprinkle it over your head and we say, “Just as this water flows over your head, so God’s love flows over you.
Third, baptism is an initiation.
Baptism is your official initiation into the Christian faith. You become a Christian when you are baptized. If you were baptized as a child, your parents accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life on your behalf and promised to teach you the meaning of that acceptance when you were old enough to learn it. If you were baptized as an adult, you spoke for yourself and created Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life.
Baptism is a symbol, a celebration and an initiation, all given to you as a gift because we love you and because God loves you.
Somewhere in our attic is a video our son, Jim, taking his first steps, and saying his first words. It’s probably boring to everyone but us, but it is very sweet to watch. I think God sees us that way. We wobble and fall down sometimes, but God keeps encouraging us and loves us in our struggles. Baptism is not a payment for something we have accomplished, some moral achievement, doctrine, or behavioral norm, but rather it is a gift of love.
In the Christian community, all over the world, the church gives baptism as a gift to each of us to symbolize and demonstrate and celebrate what God has already done in our lives through Jesus Christ.
God has loves us, forgiven us, accepted us, and set us down on a new course.
God has taught us how to walk, pied us up when we have fallen, and held us with bonds of love.
And that, my friends, is a gift that can be re-gifted; it can be shared with someone else, but it can never be returned. Amen.