What Gifts Do Our Children Need?

On Epiphany Sunday, we dedicated a beautiful baby girl in our church family. As American Baptists we "dedicate" a child rather than "baptize." It is our tradition as a congregation to dedicate a child to God, joining with the parents to commit to raising the child to know God. The child then chooses to be baptized (or not) when ready to make a commitment.

The commitment the parents and congregation make is a serious and powerful one as my son reminded me when he was in junior high. One Sunday as I sat with the choir, a friend watched as our two sons wandered out of the worship service. Following, she dragged them back in church. After church she told me that Gregg was likely to be mad at her but instead he said, "She did what she was supposed to do. When we have baby dedications people promise to help raise the baby, and she did."

My friend Mary reminded me of that commitment when she asked me to preach at the dedication of her daughter Anna some years ago. Mary was serving at a small church in Indianapolis at the time. "Be sure," she said, "to make it clear that all of the children around us are our children. Be sure the church knows this." So I did my best.

Wise words from my son, whose words went a long way in diffusing his mother's anger, and wise words from my friend who wanted her church to care about the children in their neighborhood.

Today we, too, made a pledge. We took a pledge to be part of this child's life and faith journey. We were reminded that we are part of the lives of all the children here, and as my friend Mary reminded me, we are part of the lives of all of the children of the world.

In the spirit of the Magi who brought gifts to the Christ Child, let's take a few moments to consider what gifts we should bring to all of God's children.

We need to give our children the gift of respect.

We need to speak to our children in ways that build up, not tear down. Words of affirmation that help a child build on his talents and abilities. Words that help her learn from her mistakes. Encouraging words that help our children make sense of the "failures" that are bound to come their way.

We need to help parents be good parents. There is no instruction book to parenting, darn it. In the movie "Parenthood," a frustrated young man said, "You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car -- you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let 'anyone' be a father [edited by Peg for G-rating]." You can say we learn by example, but not everyone was raised by emotionally healthy people.

We need to teach them how to serve. Respect that they have gifts and abilities that contribute to our world. Teach them about giving. Don't just teach them how to shop for gifts, but instead teach them to shovel sidewalks and plant flowers. And teach them by example. Teach them by taking them with you when you give your own gifts to others.

We need to give our children the opportunity to know God, respecting that they can process information given to them in healthy ways. We inside the church need to offer ways to those outside the walls of our church building. In fact, we need to ask ourselves how can we "be" the church outside the church building.

We need to protect them.

We need to look out for their best interests, to ensure that all children have opportunities for good education, health care, food, warm homes and clothing.

We need to protect them from abuse. We need to do all we can to ensure that the only touch a child receives is an appropriate one. We need to make the protection of our children be a major priority in our world.

We need to ensure that their safety is more important than anything, maybe even our rights.

We need to protect the earth and be better stewards of the world they will inherit.

We need to love them.

I don't mean just words about love. I mean the love Jesus talked about when he said we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We need to show our love by investing in them -- our time, our energy, our belief in them as contributing members of humanity.

You see, if we really and truly love others we will protect them and respect them.

In fact, the third chapter of 1 John tells us "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is."

So we are all children of God, all in need of protection, respect and love. And of course, in order to get these we need to get them from other children of God. A vicious circle, isn't it?

A grieving mother from Newtown, Conn., wrote a letter on Christmas Day and put it on the "Remember Sandy Hook 2012" Facebook page. She spoke of her last day with her day, how excited her daughter Ana was about the coming Christmas. She spoke of the courage and bravery of the principal and teachers. And she gave this Christmas wish:

I want to live in a better America -- one where our leaders are working collaboratively for the good of the people and the protection of children. Please! No more! Ya basta! [meaning "Enough is enough!]

Sweet Ana, My Christmas promise to you now is to continue to love the Lord with all my heart, mind and strength and to do whatever I can to make sure more kids can be safe ... and to send out the message that "love wins."

We are all God's children. Let's make sure that love does indeed win.