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God Bless the Child

By Sharron R. Blezard, December 27, 2011

First Sunday of Christmas Lectionary Reflection

January 1, 2012

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. –Luke 2:39-40

Luke reminds us in this week’s gospel lesson that Mary and Joseph fulfilled their parental requirements by bringing Jesus to the synagogue to present him to the LORD. Here they also received the prophetic words, wisdom and blessing of Simeon and Anna. The reading ends with these words from verse 40, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”

When parents bring a child to God for baptism in our congregations are we adequately preparing them for the journey ahead? Do we provide a clear understanding of the sacrament? Does the congregation hold them accountable and support them in their parenting and faith development of the child? I’m afraid all too often the answer is, “No, not really.” We may present them with a blanket, a candle, a towel, or other gifts to commemorate the day, but what sort of follow up do we provide once the cake is devoured and life as usual resumes?

Each child baptized in our presence deserves the best shot possible at growing in strength, wisdom, and favor with God. That means upholding our end of the bargain whenever a child (or adult, for that matter) is incorporated into the family of God. This is serious business, indeed.

What if, on this first day of the new year, we celebrated both God’s incredible gift of Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwelt and still lives among and in us today, and the children in our faith families? If you will be celebrating baptisms next week while commemorating the Baptism of our Lord, why not call for a renewed emphasis on supporting and encouraging parents and children in the congregation? Offer praise to God and thanksgiving for the children and families in your midst.

It’s tough sledding being a parent today. Not only are the typical rigors and challenges present, but parents today face daunting competition for their time and energy along with plenty of economic challenges. If the church does not address these issues and offer support and refuge, then the culture will gladly step in and render the church irrelevant.

The sound of children in worship is the sound of hope. The presence of children and families in the worshiping community brings life to the body of Christ even as it presents new challenges and opportunities. Make sure that your congregation is welcoming and affirming to families of all kinds, sizes, and shapes. See the face of Christ in each child.

An African proverb, popularized by author Jane Cowen-Fletcher and Hilary Rodham Clinton, says “It takes a village to raise a child.” I maintain it takes a congregation—God’s family—to support, encourage, and assist in helping all of God’s children grow and flourish. How can your congregation be that village and that fertile soil for the families with whom you worship and to whom you minister?

For further Reflection

Jazz singer Billie Holiday popularized the song “God Bless the Child.” While the lyrics are theologically muddy, it has provided the impetus for other creative responses and even a charitable initiative providing music education both to Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem (see below). Shania Twain popularized a song by the same name with lyrics that remind us of our responsibility to children both in our midst and in the whole world. Click here for a YouTube version of Twain’s song.

How can your congregation help God’s children “have their own” place, space, and support system to grow and flourish as disciples of Christ?

The late jazz saxophonist Arnie Lawrence (Arnold Lawrence Finkelstein) was both a talented and accomplished musician and a gifted educator. Lawrence served as an artist in residence in Kansas and Kentucky and founded the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. His capstone achievement was founding the International for Creative Music where both Jew and Arab students could learn and play music in peace. Lawrence also supported two non-profit groups to promote safety and peace for children living in areas of conflict—God Bless the Child and Blues for Peace. For more information about Lawrence and his work, click here.

Check out the lectionary reflection for this week’s lesser festival of The Name of Jesus by clicking here.

(Photos by “clairity,” gardener41dani0010, and Richard Masoner used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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