I’m glad there is a baptism of an infant today because the very fact we are going to baptise a child who cannot yet make a personal assent to any faith is of vital importance to getting a deeper understanding of God and God’s grace, which is love. I’ll return to that thought later.
First of all, let me explain what the oil in the bridesmaids lamps symbolise. Oil symbolises good deeds. The oil in your lamp is the positive loving response in your life to a very personal knowledge of God. The bridesmaids are all believers in God or (anachronistically) Christian disciples waiting for Jesus’ return.
Oil in your lamp is loving your neighbour, forgiving people, helping when you can – a demonstrable working out of your faith in your life.
The parable says that 5 of them had oil and 5 didn’t. They all professed faith, but for only some of them had that faith been translated into a living response, a life that had actually been changed by their faith.
The brutal truth the parable conveys is that faith alone cannot save you. And when I say “save” I don’t mean life after death, I mean the quality of our lives in the here and now. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves some pretty harsh questions like, do my beliefs actually make much difference to my life.
Do I really have the inner peace, joy and contentment and completeness that my faith promises or do I actually find it quite elusive? Because it is only out of that joy that transformation can start to take place.
The real underlying difference between the wise and foolish bridesmaids is this, Do they just believe in God or do they actually know God. Knowing in a way that transcends our minds. All the bridesmaids could assent intellectually to God, but only some felt any real connection where it would then started to dramatically alter their way of life.
That is why in the dramatic last act Jesus says “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you”. I would say that the truth is the flipside to that statement which is “You don’t know me”.
The reason all the established churches baptise infants before they can ever say yes no or maybe is making a dramatic and important theological point.
It says quite boldly and straightforwardly. “God knows this child already”. God loves this child already whether or not any response ever comes. The child may grow up and reject God for all any of us know. But what we affirm here today is that whether he does or whether he doesn’t God will never reject him. God loves this child now, he loved him before he was born and he will love him on the other side of life, and it’s the same for every one of us.
The parable of the 10 bridesmaids tells us that true peace and completeness only comes when we discover that simple but elusive fact for ourselves, not just through intellectual knowing, but at a deeper level, a level of knowing that is so hard to describe- an intuition -that we are not actually alone, but we are held. That is why infant baptism is so important. It confirms the constancy and magnitude and closeness of God’s love for us that is not dependent on our response and out of this beautiful love, once known, is where our transformation begins.
It says boldly and proudly that God’s love for us always precedes any response to that love that may come from us. That response from us even when it does come will be imperfect, may come in fits and starts, will be half hearted at times and at other times may be full on, sometimes resulting in a permanent state of inner peace or just giving us brief glimpses. In others it may never happen at all. But whichever category you think you belong to, wherever you are in your relationship with God, infant baptism affirms that God is with you and loves you regardless.