I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. It’s been at least a decade or so since I’ve even tried to attempt one. Usually by about mid-January I’ve thrown in the towel. Not happening. I knew that was a dumb idea! I’m sure this says something about me on fifteen different personality scales. Lack of commitment. Shortsidedness. Complacency. So when that bandwagon comes by each year, I just wave it along. No thanks, not for me. The rest of you have fun with that. Now, this is not to say I’m less than excited about a new year. 2018 was so last year. Aside from writing out the incorrect year for the next three and a half weeks, I’m looking forward to what the future of each new day holds for my family and I, our congregation and community, and the world. New opportunities. Second chances. Something I could never have imagined or expected. It won’t all be perfect. The foggy uncertainty of each new year always eventually settles to reveal both goods and bads, joys and pains. And in the blink of an eye, what could be happens and is immediately stamped into the annals of time past. Not a single year has gone by in the history of the world without at least one person, or more like a couple billion people, exhaling in relief. Thank God that year is over, it was the worst. I remember hearing this from my dad at the close of 2013—the year my grandfather died, among so many other trying situations. We clinch our teeth in eager anticipation, perhaps a smidgen of anxiety, and crowning hopefulness that this might be the year—for what exactly, who knows. With champagne/sparkling grape juice, a kiss for our beloved, and fireworks (party poppers for us in town or with frightened furry friends), we let the confetti loose and await whether or not the new date will bring with it glad tidings. Out with the old, and in with the new! Sounds so good, the church should use it 😉
In all seriousness, newness is core to our theology in the Lutheran church. In baptism, we believe, joined with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the old sinful self dies and the new Spirit-filled person is born. What was is no more, and what is and will be is completely reformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in the grace, love, and forgiveness of God for us through the Crucified and Risen Lord. Martin Luther encourages us to remember our baptism each morning when we awake and wash our faces—with the refreshing water passing over our skin, recalling the promises made and gifts freely received upon our holy washing. Full forgiveness of all your sins. God’s limitless love. Freedom from the enslaving powers of sin and death. Unmerited membership within the body of Christ. Life anew today, tomorrow, and in the time to come. A vocation of proclaiming Christ through one’s life, caring for all the world, and working to bring about God’s peace and justice here and now. The theme of newness fills our scriptures. John, near the end of his Revelation, prophetically points to the one who is seated upon the throne and speaks a word of promise for all of creation to hear: “See, I am making all things new” (21:5). The church proclaims this reality: Christ is always making all things new! This change is more than just annually. No need to wait til 2020 for the next opportunity. Daily, we experience (and embody) an out with the old, and in with the new transformation. And just as it isn’t dependent upon the calendar, nor is it based on the faithfulness of our personal resolutions. Thank God! This gift is freely given to us, not contingent upon what we say, do, or otherwise avoid—no strings attached—but simply received by trusting in the One who took on life and death on our behalf so that we might share in a resurrection like his. Newness is fundamental to who we are as Christians.
Ok Andrew, so it sounds like we’re off the hook—back to your lack of commitment, shortsightedness, and complacency? Touche, but no. The temptation with grace is to think it ultimately means (allows) unaccountability, however, that is a unfortunate misunderstanding. Our newness does not safely sterilize and separate us from the rest of the world, but rather drives us fully back into it—within its depths, darkness, and disdain—in order to respond with love and service for our neighbor(s). The salvation we receive in and through the Crucified and Risen Christ makes our lives resolute (purposeful) in sharing with others the same grace, love, and forgiveness we ourselves have received. Our holy vocation, entered into through baptism, to share the good news of Christ Jesus in word and action is not a looming task, dreadfully looked upon, that must be accomplished religiously so as to just maybe make this day/week/month/year/life the best ever. Rather it is a blessed joy we are invited into, to participate in with one another, using our varying gifts equipped by the Spirit , helping to bring about God’s will in the world as it is in heaven. This doesn’t mean everything is suddenly perfect. Still we feel the sting of death on this side of the resurrection. But in the new opportunities, second chances, unexpected and unimaginable, we encounter glimpses of God’s kingdom breaking into our midst. Our newness in Christ births hope within us—not for a particular day or year, but for healing and wholeness, for peace and justice among all peoples, for renewal and resurrection, for life and love intertwined into one. This hope dissipates our anxiety and fear, and fills us with praise and thankfulness for what God is God is doing here and now. Out with the old, and in with the new!
– Pastor Andrew