This is my January newsletter article, for anyone who is interested.
In all likelihood, this article will be one of the first things you read in 2011. Happy New Year! With a new year comes much thought about starting over, changing habits, and making resolutions regarding our lives. In fact, with a new anything we tend to think through how we’ll treat it differently, approach it differently, etc. New job? “I’m going to approach my relationships with coworkers differently this time.” New car? “This time, I’m going to make sure I do all the recommended maintenance, right on time.”
So we treat each new year as if it’s a sort of new life for us. But whether it’s a new year, or merely a new day, there’s something God has given us that is “new.” God has given us a new life! With this new life comes a sign that God has given us that we can daily remember this new life that we have. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV) This sign which God gives to us is Holy Baptism!
Luther talked a lot about Holy Baptism being a “sign” and it’s right and salutary for us to continue speaking of baptism in this way. However, we need to be careful and ensure that we have a clear understanding of exactly what this word means. Nowadays, baptism is grossly misunderstood by so many Christians who also describe baptism as a “sign” but mean something entirely different than what we Lutherans do! For them, the sign points to something they are doing. For us, though, the sign points to something that God has done for us! When we daily remember our baptism, it’s working as a sign for us which directs us back to those words of Paul above. In our daily remembrance of our baptism, we recall that our sinful self is dead and buried with Christ, and now we walk around new, redeemed, and made pure by the gift of God in Christ Jesus.
But what’s the point of this “sign” and how does it really benefit me every new day and new year of my life? Here’s how Luther describes the benefit of this wonderful sign that God has given us in our baptism, and how it serves us every day. “So when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say, ‘Nevertheless, I am baptized. And if I am baptized, it is promised to me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.’” (Large Catechism IV, paragraph 44)
As we begin this new year, then, I encourage you all to make a new habit of daily remembering your baptism. Recall what God has done to you in it (Romans 6). Remember what a comfort it provides you as you move through every day of 2011 confronted by sin and death. And keep in mind also these words of Luther, describing what an immeasurable treasure baptism truly is: “Imagine there was a doctor somewhere who understood the art of saving people from death or, even though they died, could restore them quickly to life so that they would afterward live forever. Oh, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain. No one could find access to him because of the throng of the rich! But here in Baptism there is freely brought to everyone’s door such a treasure and medicine that it utterly destroys death and preserves all people alive.” (Large Catechism IV, paragraph 43)