The story of Ruth opens with death. The beginning of Ruth is the story of a dying family, barren women, and famine. The land is dead. Wombs are dead. And the family is dying and falling apart. The story of Ruth opens in darkness, hopelessness, and emptiness. That is the beginning of the story of Ruth. Naomi returns to Bethlehem at the beginning of the story in this state, at the beginning of the barley harvest. In the beginning there was death. In the beginning there was famine. In the beginning there was emptiness. And of course all of this should remind us of the first beginning, the ‘in the beginning’ that precedes all ‘beginnings.’
In an important sense beginnings always come from brokenness. The first beginning, the beginning of the world there was nothingness, but once God began to speak worlds into existence, all other beginnings come from the reshaping and reforming of what has come previously. God divides light from darkness and begins the cycle of days and nights. God divides waters and creates the sky. God divides a rib from Adam and creates a woman. God divides the sea, and his people walk through on dry ground, a new people, a new nation. God says that sons must leave their father and mother and be joined to their wife and become one with her. The disintegration of the family line of Seth through sin and wickedness made way for Noah and the new world after the flood. The burdens of Pharaoh and his policies of population control made way for Moses and the new world after the Exodus. And even the chaos and instability of the period of the judges made way for the monarcy, the new world under the Kings. Beginnings after the first beginning mimic the original beginning. Just as there was darkness and formlessness and emptiness in the first beginning, there is now some degree of brokenness, darkness, death, and emptiness involved in every new beginning. There is a sort of nothingness that precedes the beginning of something new. And all of this is the glory of God because he delights to do the impossible. He delights to speak light into darkness, to speak worlds from nothings.
And this is true of baptism, and it is particularly evident in infant baptism. When we bring an infant to be baptized we bring a person who has only just begun to be formed. We bring a child who has only recently broken out of their mother’s womb which involves pain and bloodshed. The birth of a child is always a certain kind of death. But even more than that what we say about infant baptism is fairly amazing. We say that these children are about to be formally engrafted into the Lord Jesus. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins, and therefore this baptism is their baptism for the remission of sins. We believe the promise of Peter at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit hovers over these waters and promises to fill these new members of the body of Christ. And so it’s not surprising that Christians have often tried to tame the Scriptures, downplaying what baptism actually means and often simply limiting it to older children or adults who show more signs of being fully formed into Christians. But what this does is get the creation story backwards. These well intentioned brothers and sisters want to have a world first and then the words ‘let there be light.’ They want to see the Red Sea mostly divided and then they’ll permit Moses to declare to Israel, “Stand still! And see the salvation of the Lord, which he will perform for you today.” To insist upon adult baptism is to insist that we must see God perform his work before we will believe his words. But this is not faith.
And so when we bring an infant to be baptized, the objection is, look he/she is really cute and all, but we don’t know if he/she believes, we don’t know what they will become, there’s nothing there yet. She’s formless, she’s only just begun, there’s not enough there to work with, not enough to go on. And our faith-filled answer needs to be: exactly. You are exactly right. There is nothing here but too helpless infants. They cannot do anything for themselves. They cannot speak, their thoughts and actions and desires are still hardly formed. There is hardly anything here, and that is just how our God likes it. He comes to us in our brokenness. He comes to us in our emptiness. He comes to us in our death, in our helplessness, in our inability to do anything. And he says, “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” While there was still darkness, God said, “Let there be light.” While there was still a Red Sea and charging chariots and horsemen, God said, “Watch this.” While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And therefore, why would it be surprising in the slightest that God would take babies, infants into his arms and bless them and say, I have saved you. I have forgiven you. I have washed you clean. You are mine, and you will do great things in my kingdom. Of course that’s what God does because God delights to begin with nothing. He begins with death. He begins with helplessness. He begins with a widow and her barren daughter in-law in the midst of famine. He begins at the beginning of barley harvest, and he visits his people.
That’s all that matters. If God visits his people then we are saved. We are completely and unalterably dependent on him. If God is far off then we are to be pitied, and we have no reason for hope. But if God is near; if he visits his people, then we have every reason to believe, every reason to hope. We serve the God of beginnings. We serve the Lord Jesus who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. He who begins good works in us completes them to the day of Christ Jesus.
Therefore, Aaron and Emily, Nate and Alexis, as you bring your children up, do so in this faith. And particularly as they face the challenges of life, the brokenness of sin and death, the trials and temptations of growing up in the Church, teach them to remember how God began with them. He declared their forgiveness ahead of time, he promised them the world at the beginning, he promised them life and glory even while they were tiny babies in their mothers’ arms. And teach them to believe that God delights to accomplish what he has spoken. Teach them that death and brokenness and emptiness is always the beginning of the story. Teach them to believe that life and resurrection always lie ahead. And live this out with one another. Amen!