Bishop and Christian*, January 2015

As we begin another calendar year, the Church is already in full celebration mode, with the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (Jan. 1), Epiphany (Jan. 6), and the Baptism of Our Lord (celebrated Jan. 11).

Everywhere, people are talking about New Year’s Resolutions, which no one expects to keep and which no one really wants to, anyway. They are generally distasteful things, which is why we always say things like, “When the holidays are over, then I’ll…”; they are things which we do not want to begin until there’s nothing better to do in the winter months of January and February.

I have no resolutions, nor will I make any. Not that I don’t have things on which I could improve, or things that I will try to do better this year. The things for which everyone else will once again make (futile?) resolutions are what we simply call “vocation”: The things that are required of you and me in the particular situations in which God has put us (which probably isn’t changing all that much just because you put up a new calendar); the things that the love of God for your neighbor demand; the things for which you, with your gifts, talents, experience, and job, are uniquely placed. The Christian doesn’t wait until “after the holidays” or until January 1 to work at these; the definition of vocation is that you are in it every day, all year long.

I don’t know about you, but that creates in me two separate, and often opposing, feelings. First, an excitement and freedom that God has put me here, at this time and in this place, to be His “mask” as He serves others through me. What greater opportunity could a baptized child of God have? (That is the good gift of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.) But it also creates in me a feeling of tremendous and nearly complete inadequacy. There is simply no way I can ever accomplish the tasks that love requires. I fail miserably, and multiple times, every single day. This brings me to despair of myself and my own abilities. (That is also the good work of the Holy Spirit through the Law.) I need the saving and forgiving work of Jesus as much this year as ever. I have not yet ceased to be a sinner, and 2015 won’t be the year that I do (unless Christ returns). But I know, because I am baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (see Jan. 11!), because He fulfilled the righteous Law of God completely in my place (see Jan. 1 and 11!), and because He has been revealed before all nations as their, and my, Savior from sin and its consequences (see Jan. 6!), that I am free from worry about whether this year I will be able to please God. He has said to me, and to you, exactly what He says to His Son (because we are in His Son!): “This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

So don’t worry about resolutions; just practice the Faith: confess your sin, receive Christ’s Absolution (which is a return to your baptism), gather weekly around His Word, and receive His Body and Blood in the Supper. The calendar may change, but the grace of God for you never does.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

Quote for the Month

Jesus sanctified Baptism by being Himself baptized. If the Son of God was baptized, what godly man is he that despiseth Baptism? But He was baptized not that He might receive remission of sins, for He was sinless; but being sinless, He was baptized, that He might give to them that are baptized a divine and excellent grace. For since the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise partook of the same [Heb. 2:14], that having been made partakers of His presence in the flesh we might be made partakers also of His Divine grace: thus Jesus was baptized, that thereby we again by our participation might receive both salvation and honour. According to Job, there was in the waters the dragon that draweth up Jordan into his mouth [Job 40:23]. Since, therefore, it was necessary to break the heads of the dragon in pieces [Ps. 74:14], He went down and bound the strong one in the waters, that we might receive power to tread upon serpents and scorpions [Luke 10:19]. The beast was great and terrible…[But] The Life encountered him, that the mouth of Death might henceforth be stopped, and all we that are saved might say, O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory [1 Cor. 15:55]? The sting of death is drawn by Baptism” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, III:11 [http://www.ccel.org/print/schaff/npnf207/ii.vii]).

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