Some hours ago I stood in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital with a father standing vigil near the bed of his son -- the lonely vigil that is every parent's worst fear. A baby comes early, too early, and life is so very fragile within his little frame of flesh and blood. As the mother is being cared for according to her own needs, we wait in prayerful companionship in the bonds of God's abiding love, hidden somewhere in this very painful moment.
What can you say to a parent facing what no parent ever wants to face? What hope can you bring to this little room and this very tiny baby? God gives us no words of explanation. He answers our longing hearts with no quick path to erasing the fears and pain of this experience. What does God give to us?
I brought with me a fresh, white, linen napkin on which is embroidered a cross and a shell. The nurse brought me some sterile water. I dipped my finger into the water and three times dropped its life-giving and healing gift upon the small forehead of this child. I baptize you into the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. These are the words that bring hope to a place where a mother and father hope against hope in their tears. Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and the Spirit and forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting. And then an oil stock and the touch of oil to the forehead of this child now born to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. I anoint you with the salutary oil of eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ. Oil is the rich Biblical symbol of healing and sign of trust that God knows our needs and will supply us the grace sufficient for them all. And then it is done. His name so newly given is now written for all eternity in the Lamb's Book of Life.
To the hurt and pain of this terrible moment, to the broken dreams and dashed hopes of parents for their child, for his future, for what he could, might, may become... the answer lies in water that does what it promises... in a new birth that takes away the imperfections of the first birth and heals this little child with the heavenly grace of eternal life... Mom and Dad are kind, loving, and gracious parents and would have brought this son into the welcome of Holy Baptism within the House of God (as they did for their other three children). Now the welcome of His grace has turned this NICU into God's House as He enfolded this child in His arms amid a chorus of mechanical sounds and beeps that in one, brief moment become the heavenly chorus of angels rejoicing over one more lamb of our Savior's redeeming. And for how ever long he has this life today, he has the life which is eternal and no one, not even death, can steal it away from him.
Baptism now saves us... in the early hours of this day, before the dawn, we gathered in this room to bring to God our broken hearts and wounds for a child so small and fragile... and God responds with unrelenting grace.
But now thus says the Lord,he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:1-3 (ESV)
This is one Pastor who rejoices that when I have little to give consolation or hope to a room full of tears, God has the consolation and hope to redeem this moment and bestow upon our fragile moments of time the grace of eternity through our Lord Jesus Christ...