Dear Joshua… a Baptism Day Letter

Dear Joshua, 

Happy Baptism day, son. You know, It doesn’t get old calling you that…my son. No offense to your sisters. In fact they are part of why you are getting baptized today the first Sunday of Advent which this year falls on November 28th. Your sisters were baptized on 28ths too: December 28th and October 28th. Anything to make it easier for dear old dad to remember. 

I have to tell you though, I don’t ever remember seeing a baptism in Advent. Advent is actually a somewhat solemn season. It’s kind of dark, like a little Lent, and Lent is a season when we don’t do baptisms. So, we may be breaking a rule today, son. Don’t tell mom. She’s Catholic and they wrote most of these rules.

Whether or not it’s liturgically correct, it’s a good Sunday to do this because it’s probably my favorite time of the year. It’s the first Sunday of the church year and it begins in the dark. It’s the part of the year when we read from the prophets like Jeremiah who came as messengers to people who walked in darkness asking the question “who will save us?” 

The prophets spoke of a coming savior. The church knows his name and celebrates his first Advent at Christmas. But today the church also proclaims his promise to come again in a second Advent and make all things new. 

That’s the truth we wade into, the hope we cling to as Christians this season, that even though we walk in darkness and shadow, that the light has come and it again shall come, because a savior has been born for us. A son has been given us. It is this hope, this person into whom you get baptized today, son, he who was, and is, and is to come, our savior. And guess what? You two share a name.

Here’s the story. It was Joseph who got the news about the first Advent from the angel who said “Joseph, you are going to have a son.” Well, he wasn’t going to have him. Mary was. It’s kind of an adoption story. Naturally, Joseph was shocked by the angel’s good news and he hurried home to share it with his wife. He told her what the Angel told him: that a son would be born for them, given to them, that he would be the savior, and that his name should be called…Joshua. 

Toros Roslin, 1262

That’s right Son, Joseph and Mary were told by the Angel to name their son Joshua. We call him Jesus, but that’s just the American way to pronounce the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Joshua. That’s your name too, son! And it’s a name that carries a meaning. It carries the Good News. Joshua means “God Saves.”

Son, I got the news about you from a different kind of angel. She was a social worker who called me on the phone while I was in the middle of a church meeting. It was October of 2020, so of course it was a zoom meeting. I saw where the call was coming from and so I muted myself and turned off my camera to answer. That’s when she told me the good news: I was going to have a son. Well, I wasn’t going to have a son, someone else was. Someone else did. This was the adoption agency calling. She told me a son had been born for us, a son would be given to us. 

I was shocked and so I abruptly left the zoom meeting, only I was the host of the meeting so I inadvertently ended the meeting for all involved (some of whom thanked me later). I got on my bicycle and hurried home to tell your mom the good news but I was riding so fast that when I jumped a curb I broke my bike. 

File:Bike by night (6140821902).jpg

It was there, under street lamp light and the dreamy night sky that I was given the name you should be called. As I coasted home on a broken bike unable to power my own way I heard your name. Joshua. Joshua. His name shall be called Joshua. 

Luckily your mom liked the name. Ten days later we held you in our arms. Ten days after that we welcomed you home. One year after that, just last week, we finally got your new birth certificate with your official name printed on it: Joshua Jun Colby.

Jun means handsome, by the way. Not a biblical name, but nonetheless true of all Colby men. 

Son, I’m writing all this to you because I know someday you will have questions about today, about why we baptized you, and what it all means. That’s another reason why it’s good to do today because Advent is a time that welcomes questions and asks again with generations that have gone before us and generations to come, “Who will save us?” 

It’s a biblical question. You can tell the whole story of the Bible with this question. It was asked by Abraham and Sarah, by their children, by the Hebrew children in slavery, and by their decendants afterward. Over and over the people of the Bible find themselves in the midst of struggle and difficulty and death, and they cry out, “Who will save us?” 

And time after time, the Bible gives us the answer. God gives the answer. “Who is the one who will save you? I am. I Am, says the Lord. I am your savior. I have been. I will be. I Am.”

More than once in the Bible God saves the people by helping them pass through water, son. That’s why in today’s baptism liturgy we remember how… 

In the days of Noah
God saved those on the ark through water.
After the flood God set in the clouds a rainbow.
When God saw the people as slaves in Egypt,
God led them to freedom through the sea.
Their children God brought through the Jordan
to the land which you promised.

Baptismal Covenant, United Methodist Church

And son, that last part? The part where God led the people to safety across the Jordan? There was a guy God called to lead them through that water into the promised land. Guess what his name was? It was Joshua, which means God saves. 

File:Crossing the Jordan River with the Ark, painted board, detail from the  cabinets of the Old Sacristy, Church of St Mary the Gracious Milan. Italy,  15th.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Crossing the Jordan River with the Ark, painted board, detail from the cabinets of the Old Sacristy, Church of St Mary the Gracious (UNESCO World Heritage List,1980), Milan. Italy, 15th century.

And guess what, son? In Advent we tell another story about that same river. It’s the story of John the Baptist who was baptizing people in the Jordan, telling people to prepare the way of the Lord, the coming savior. 

One day, right where the first Joshua had crossed the Jordan centuries before, John sees his cousin Joshua (who we call Jesus) walking by. Jesus walks up and asked to be baptized right there. That makes Jesus the second Joshua in the Bible to pass through the waters of the Jordan except this time guess what? He gets wet. 

The first Joshua walked through on dry land, but this second Joshua, Jesus, he gets wet because he was called to go where others never had to. Not just through the waters, but into them. 

Water in the Bible often signifies danger, son. It’s a dangerous place, and it even symbolizes death. Jesus the second Joshua gets wet because he came to save us from all that’s wrong with the world including death, but he does it by becoming one of us. As God with us, Jesus enters into the waters of live, even to the point of death.

File:Baptism-of-Christ.jpg
Baptism of Christ. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by John. David Zelenka, 2005

Look son, you’re at least half Catholic and so it’s important for you to know that the old Catholic tradition in Advent is to take the four Sundays of Advent and talk about what they called the “Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.” See? I told you, it’s kind of a dark season. 

But that’s one of the best things about being a Christian, son. It’s a community that doesn’t have lie to you because as children of the light we aren’t afraid of the dark. So here’s the truth. Your life is going to be hard. That’s because life is hard and none of us are very good at it. All the goodness and beauty that comes with life also comes with pain, and failure, and mistakes, heartache and grief, and sin and death. The truth about this life you’re just beginning to live is that it’s a life that requires a savior.

Son, I can’t be your savior, and even though she often comes pretty close, neither can your mama. We can’t save you. Your baptism is what we are doing instead. 

It’s funny, son. You’re being baptized a month after your first birthday, but because you’re adopted it wasn’t until just last week that you officially had a legal birth certificate with your full name on it. Now, only a week later, you will get a new birth certificate, a baptism certificate signifying a different kind of birth, another adoption into eternal life in the family of the God who saves.

All of this, your name, the water, the Bible, the certificate, your baptism, even this easy-to-remember date, it’s all given to you in the hopes that it will be something you’ll come to remember, good news you can come to accept, and remember, and return to over and over.

We have been given these little things, son, bread, wine, water, and a church that begins every year by lighting a single candle in the dark to tell a story of a savior. It’s all given to answer over and over this question “Who will save us?” with the good news which was written in the scriptures, announced by the angels, proclaimed in the church, and made flesh in Joshua. Jesus. Whose name, like yours, means God saves.  

Thanks be to God. 

Love, 
Dad

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