Last Sunday’s sermon, “Christmas Behind the Scenes,” looked at the Holy Spirit as an essential part of Jesus’ life from his infancy to the culmination of his adulthood. The message focused on two elderly characters in the Christmastide story who are only mentioned once a year, on the Sunday after Christmas, when church attendance is lower than usual, and we’re all still sleepy from the holidays: Simeon and Anna the prophet. You could say that Simeon and Anna are behind-the-scenes characters figuratively in the story of Jesus’ infancy, and literally in our biblical attention span. But that doesn’t make those two wise old servants of God any less crucial in Jesus’ life’s story, which makes them just as important in the story of our own faith.
So, in the infancy days of this New Year, I’m reflecting on the behind-the-scenes characters in my life’s story; the ones seldom mentioned, but who are no less essential to my faith journey. And with Baptism of Christ Sunday coming up this week, I’m remembering my own baptism and a key player in that chapter of my story who got no credit for his part in it: Dan Gardner.
I was baptized into the Christian faith when I was 14 years old, having only a vague understanding of what I was getting into. On the day of my baptism, I walked down a long, dimly lit hallway in search of the dressing room. Despite spending every Sunday and Wednesday for most of life at the church, I’d never been down that hall or been inside the space I was about to walk into. It felt ominous, even intimidating. I was afraid…that is, until Dan Gardner greeted me at the dressing room door.
Mr. Gardner was in his 80s; a longtime member of the church and a man of devout faith. He didn’t really know me, but that morning he showed me hospitality and kindness typically reserved for the dearest of friends. Dressed in a suit too large for his shrinking body, Mr. Gardner opened the door to the dressing room for me where I would prepare to be baptized. He showed me where the starched white robe was that I would change into. He pointed to the folded towels he would later drape over my shoulders when I came out of the water. He prepared refreshments for me, and he asked if I needed anything else. He saw that I was nervous, so he assured me that everything would be okay. He shook my hand, and the feel of his hand that seemed a bit too large for his body, soft, like a catcher’s mitt, gave me a parting dose of assurance that I would be okay. Then he walked out of the dressing room.
Looking back on that special day in my life, I remember Dan Gardner, and I think, “He didn’t have to do that for me. He didn’t even know me. Why did he do all that?” Maybe Mr. Gardner volunteered to be there for me that day because he remembered his own baptism and was faithfully honoring it. Maybe he recalled the stories of hospitality and kindness that informed his faith and was just paying it forward. Or maybe Mr. Gardner recognized the importance of countless people working behind the scenes in his life, from when he was a helpless infant to the present, and he wanted to be in that number of saints by doing likewise for a kid like me, even if that kid might never grow to appreciate it. Thankfully, I do appreciate it, and at the start of 2024 I am cherishing the ongoing power of sacred memory and giving thanks for all the behind-the-scenes servants of God who helped me along the way. I wouldn’t be here, let alone who I am, without every single one of them.
Who are the behind-the-scenes characters in your life’s story? Who are the Simeons and Annas and Dan Gardners you seldom recall, but that are still essential to your faith journey? Remember them. Name them. Give thanks for them. And may we all walk in their footsteps with faith, hope, and love in this New Year and always for the sake of someone’s story that is waiting to be written for all our sakes and to the glory of God.