This Thanksgiving, our three children had their own set of plans, so my wife Sandy and I spent the holiday by ourselves in Ocean Isle, North Carolina, with the world’s second largest baptismal font as our back porch—the Atlantic Ocean. The island’s shoreline runs east to west, therefore, during the winter months the sunrise and the sunset can be viewed from our balcony. Beautiful three-day trip.
One of my goals on this mini vacation was to replenish my stash of large Conkle seashells, along with spending time with Sandy and eating at a few of our favorite restaurants. The giant Conkle shell is the perfect symbol of baptism. Baptism is one of the greatest gifts from our Lord and Savior. Strange uh? Simple water attached to the promises of God can change anything!
Well, Sandy and I walked, and we walked, and we walked, searching for those simple hidden treasures. We didn’t have much luck either. We walked so much the first two days; my feet were killing me, my thighs and calves and toes started cramping up. Half of this walking, about 10,000 beach steps, is done in 1-2 feet of water moving quickly, on rippled, uneven ground, not really knowing what the next step brings. While the fruits of our labor had been slim, we still have one more day of searching. But wait, isn’t every day a day of searching, not knowing what the next step brings? Some just seem to be harder than others. And that last day was a doozy.
Fortunately, low tide wasn’t until 1PM and it had warmed up to a brisk 48 degrees cold on the beach! So, Sandy and I bundled up and headed out for our last adventure, at least till May. The tides were at the lowest point they had been the past couple of days, revealing a small brand-new sandbar. I was pretty certain the waters weren’t too deep, but Sandy was going to wait and see if I was right. There on that tiny little sandbar and in the waters nearby, we found at least 20 giant Conkle shells. The pain and cold sort of disappeared.
After Sandy and I had searched every inch of that small sandbar, I just stood there and took it all in. By now, we are close to a ½ mile from shore and our little island is starting to disappear, with the incoming tide. Looking straight out into the ocean, I could see three porpoises did not look cold at all. On a sandbar to my right, there are about 50 or so seagulls who have been trying to avoid us all afternoon. To my left, on another sandbar, the largest flock of pelicans I’ve ever seen, had to be over two hundred.
While we may have look like specks standing in the middle of the ocean, it is in these moments that this speck feels the closest to our Creator, and I realize how truly blessed this little speck is. God loves me! Unworthy as I am, I know in my heart, God loves me! What a feeling!
I finally looked toward the shore, and there I see a beautiful fourteen story condominium, with about twenty-multimillion-dollar homes, getting as close to that point as possible. These individuals must want so badly to see what I see and feel right now. For them to risk losing everything to an unpredictable arm of nature, shows quite clearly that human beings are a strange breed.
Now the excitement of finding all those shells has worn off and Sandy and I are freezing, we can’t feel our feet anymore, we’re not quite sure how far the tide has come in, and yet, we feel blessed. As I glanced down the beach and could barely see our home away from home, I realized, shoot, we still need to walk back. This is going to be painful. Like I said, humans are a strange breed.
So why? Why am I obsessed with finding these giant Conkle seashells? Why go through all the trouble? Because, to me, it is the only gift I can give to a person, the only physical gift I can give that can save lives. That’s right, save lives! The Conkle shell is marked on the inside with a Cross, showing that person, daily, the length God will go through to make that love known. It’s the only gift I can give, where a person can see that love of God sitting on their bathroom or kitchen sink. It is the only gift I can give that is a daily reminder of their baptism, something a person can feel and hold in the palm of their hand, a gift which Jesus gives to all of us strange human beings. I have continued to look for these priceless treasures for the past twenty-five years because of all the stories I hear from people in former congregations. Parishioners, who still cherish that simple shell, and share how that powerful reminder got them through a particular struggle.
Folks, Baptism is a sacrament, a mystery, promising the forgiveness of sin, comfort, strength, hope, wisdom, guidance, and eternal life. All we must do, is use it. And as far as I understand, our God has not lied to us yet.
So, if you genuinely want to prepare for the coming of our Lord and Savior during this season of Advent and Christmas, simply return to God’s gift of Baptism, daily. Put that Conkle shell in your hand and ponder the Cross inside. It is all you will ever need. It is one heck of a Christmas present.
Pastor David Trexler