There are times when our secular calendar and our church calendar collide. October 31st is a prime example. Should we celebrate October 31st as the eve of All Saints’ Day (a major holiday in some parts of the world) and the day of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses, or should we celebrate that day as Halloween with all the costumes and candy that comes with it? Of course, the two are related. There are other dates on the calendar where the secular and spiritual collide, and, if we look a little deeper, we’ll see that they, too, are connected.
January 1st is both a celebration of a new year and the celebration of a little known festival called the “Name of Jesus.” The name of Jesus means “Yahweh is salvation” or “God saves.” The name Jesus is the Greek translation of the Aramaic version of Joshua. Now think about Joshua. He is the one who took over for Moses as the leader of the ancient Israelites. Moses was not allowed to bring Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan. He led them through the waters of the Red Sea. But due to his anger, Moses was barred from leading Israel through the waters of the Jordan. A new leader would guide them. Joshua: God saves, or in Greek, Jesus.
Christians are given a new name at baptism. We are given the Triune name of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Maybe it is just coincidence (although I doubt it) that Moses, the bringer of law, could not get the people into the Promised Land. It would take Joshua: God saves. Jesus. The law can’t do it, but Jesus can. Only Jesus can deliver us from this desert wandering into a heavenly Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. Only Jesus. Only God Saves.
Now think about all the water in these stories. Water bookends the Israelites’ journey. They were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea. They were saved from Pharaoh and his army. Remember that they were trapped: Philistines and the Mediterranean to the north, desert to the south, Pharaoh’s army marching from the west, and the Red Sea to the east. They needed a miracle. They needed a water miracle. And they got one. They were baptized into Moses (1 Cor 10:2). But what did that get them? More wilderness. Still, they were given a promise from God, a promise of a Promised Land. At the end of their journey, there was water again: the Jordan River. “Crossing Jordan” has become a metaphor for the Christian death. We cross the Jordan into the Promised Land of heaven.
Were we not also trapped? With sin and temptation on every side and the devil and his army marching from the west like Pharaoh, we were trapped. We were born trapped. We needed a miracle. We needed a water miracle. And we got one. This time we are baptized into Christ and his gospel and not Moses. But what does that get us? A forty-year wilderness journey through this life. But still, there is a promise, a Promised Land. And when the time comes, it will be Joshua, Jesus, who will lead us across Jordan to heaven. Water again.
Christians are given a new name at baptism. We are given the Triune name of Father, Son, and Spirit. We are branded as those belonging to God. We are marked as ones redeemed by Christ crucified. We are made the legal heirs to the Promised Land of heaven. Until we cross Jordan, we hold on to this watery promise. Moses can’t get us there, but Christ can. Keeping the law can’t get us there, but the gospel forgiveness of Jesus does. Moses only gets us into the wilderness; Jesus takes us to paradise.
Not all is lost in this desert dreary journey. Baptism is a death and resurrection into Christ. Every day is a new day for the baptized. The old is gone, and the new arrives. The old sinful nature is crucified in daily repentance, and the new person arises to live.
Our secular version of this death and resurrection is often met with law. New resolutions replace bad habits.
Doesn’t this make the New Year all the more delightful? The old is gone, and the new has arrived. Our secular version of this death and resurrection is often met with law. New resolutions replace bad habits. New attitudes replace old grudges. The problem, of course, is that the old sinful nature keeps popping back up in our lives. The resolutions, as we all know, rarely last. Very few of us have been able to completely let go of an old grudge no matter how far back it goes in our personal history. Baptism is different. Baptism is an act performed on us. It’s a promise from God to us, not a promise from us to ourselves. He kills us (law), and he raises us (gospel forgiveness). Every day is New Year’s Day for the baptized. Every day is a new day. So Happy New Year! And Happy Baptism, that is, your new beginning, your daily new beginning! You belong to Christ. You have died and have been raised with him. His name marks you. The Name of Jesus brands you. Joshua: God saves. Jesus.