Summary: With the Church at the perephery of many lives and Baptism no longer the "done thing" it is an act of faith in itself when parents bring young children for baptism.
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."
I the light of my recent experience as a locum school chaplian I particularly notice about this passage that Jesus speaks here of little children and not anyone old enough to be in year seven or above! I think though we can grasp a sense of what he means. The wide-eyed and inquisitive approach to life of the small child is a joy to behold. Such curiosity perhaps reminds us of times in our lives when we too saw more wonder and awe in life than doubt and scepticism.
There’s a lovely story of the father and son who were driving through town together when they came upon a traffic jam. Up ahead they could see that a large semi trailer with a high load had become wedged under a railway overpass. The father experienced only the frustration of being held up and the anxiety all the trouble they would be in when they finally made it home. His son however experienced a world of unbelievable wonder. There were police everywhere and fire trucks and a big crane. There was even a train stopped at the approach to the bridge. There were important men standing around pointing and trying to figure out how to get the truck out.
While his father was sitting in the car fuming the boy could no longer contain himself. He urged his father to get out of the car and go over and have a closer look. Urged is probable not quite the right word as the young boy opened the door and raced away his father had little choice but to follow. When the father eventually caught up with his son he found him even more excited. “I know how to get the truck out dad!” he cried out. His father tried to calm him by assuring him that there were many trained people around to solve the problem (he did note however that things were a bit light on in the action department so far.) The boy ran to an important man in a yellow hat and tried to tell him his solution but the man was more concerned for the boy’s safety and shooed him away. The young fellow persisted until he found someone who would listen - all the time dragging an exhausted dad behind him. “What do you think we should do?” asked the man. “If you want to get the truck out all you have to do is let the air out of the tyres!”
So Jesus takes a child, places him or her right in the middle of the gathering and tells all those important adult disciples that they must become like little children if they want to see the Kingdom of God. We must remain, or become again, wide-eyed and open-minded to the great possibilities God has for us.
This story is often read at baptisms. It is not a watertight argument for infant baptism but it surely implies we cannot exclude young people from the church and if full membership in the church is gained through baptism then we must consider seriously the possibility of infant baptism. The main stream churches, for example the Anglican, Uniting, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches all baptise infants and entrust the promises of repentance and commitment to Christ to parents and Godparents. Parents make many decisions for their children. We respect the right of parents to not have their children baptised until they are old enough to decide for themselves and understand why that decision is taken. Over the years I’ve been ordained I have been involved with some, though not a lot, of adults who contact the church seeking baptism because their parents did not have them baptised as a child. Of course bringing children for baptism used to be ‘the done thing.’ Even when I started out 20 years ago we would have two Sundays per month where Baptisms would occur and on any given Sunday there might be as many as seven children to be baptised. Now as many people shift the Church to the periphery (and even over the horizon) of their lives, we celebrate those who bring their children for baptism as those who have made a decision of faith.