Ron and I are looking forward to the arrival of our fourth grandchild. This waiting time brings both excitement and anxiety. When a birth is announced, the first question people ask is usually, “Is everything all right with the mother and baby?” The next question is probably, “Is it a boy or a girl?” Then there may be an enquiry about the child’s name.
In biblical times names were hugely significant. The Old Testament contains stories of children being named to reflect the circumstances at the time of their birth. These days some parents are guided by cultural or religious traditions when naming their children, whilst other parents name a child after a family member or simply choose a name they like. A very long time before the invention of the ultrasound scan, Mary and Joseph knew that Mary would give birth to a son, and that he was to be called Jesus, for they had been told these things by an angel. Jesus means ‘God saves’ and so the name indicates the child’s destiny, to be our Saviour.
Following a birth, a rite or ceremony may be held, according to the family’s religion. Jesus was a Jew, and at the age of about six weeks he was taken to the Temple, where an offering was made, according to the Law of Moses. This event, known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (sometimes called Candlemas) is celebrated in church on 2nd February or the nearest Sunday. Two devout old people were in the Temple – Simeon and Anna. They each recognised the infant Jesus as the Christ or Messiah. Simeon spoke some words which are included in the service of Evensong or Evening Prayer. These words are known as the Song of Simeon or, in the Book of Common Prayer, the Nunc Dimittis.
Many parents want to give thanks to God for the birth of their child, and to bring him or her into their faith community. Some Christian denominations baptise infants, which involves the pouring of water over the child’s head to symbolise cleansing and the beginning of a new life with Jesus. Churches which practise infant baptism (popularly known as Christening) do so in the belief that God’s love is there for us before we are born and trusting that, in response to the outward sign which we enact, the Holy Spirit will effect an inward change to bring that child to an awareness of God’s love. There are other denominations which hold a service of dedication for infants, but will only baptise those who are old enough to make their own profession of faith. As well as baptism, the Church of England offers a Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child, which some parents choose because they think their child should make up his or her own mind later, or because they do not feel able to commit to the promises asked of them in the baptism service. The Service of Thanksgiving is simple, yet meaningful. The child is blessed and special prayers are said for him or her, and for the parents and family.
The Church of England does not charge a fee for either the Baptism or Thanksgiving Service. So if you have a new baby, or there is one on the way, please don’t hesitate to enquire. For those who have not been baptised as infants, it is never too late to take that step of faith. When a child is born a new life comes into the world. For those of any age who turn to Jesus and begin a new life with him, that marks a spiritual re-birth.
May God bless us all in this new year, and guide us in any new beginnings we need to make.
Revd. Glynis Hetherington – Retired Priest