On the second Sunday of Advent we continue to back our way toward Bethlehem. On Advent 1 we looked forward to the return of Christ. This week’s Gospel readings have us looking at our own experience: we remember our Baptism.
John the Baptist greets us in the text, helping everyone prepare for Christ’s coming. He offers, in each Gospel account, a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
- It makes sense that they could get ready by admitting the rotten stuff they had done, and asking God to forgive them.
- But how did it help to have John dip them in the waters of the Jordan?
- Indeed, how does our own Baptism help us be ready?
The Heidelberg Catechism reflects on Baptism in just this way in Question 69. (I’ve been blogging on this much-loved and widely used Reformed summary of biblical Christianity throughout this, its 450th anniversary year. You can see all the posts by clicking here.)
(Of courses the Catechism does not mention Advent at all — but the only Scripture texts cited for this question in the original (1563) notes are the ones we use today for Gospel readings on Advent 1 in year B [Mark 1:4] and year C [Luke 3:3].)
The writers of the Catechism did not think that Baptism itself brought about forgiveness — neither in the case of John’s Baptism nor ours. But still Baptism is something powerful and helpful when it comes to really knowing we are forgiven. Check out how they pose the question:
69 Q. How does baptism remind and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross benefits you personally?
Notice that the sacrament is basically something intended to teach us. It is to help us know, deep down inside, that the Gospel is really for us. Christ’s life and death are not just facts of history. They are God’s ultimate gifts ands they apply to me.
This is completely contrary to those who like to say “It’s not about you!” My Baptism teaches me that the Good News of Jesus really is about me — and you too.
It works in what you might call the sacramental two-step. Here’s the full answer:
A. In this way:
Christ instituted this outward washing
and with it promised that,
as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body,
so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity,
that is, all my sins.
Baptism, just like the other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, is something that happens outside us that teaches us about something God promises to do inside us.
What I like is Heidelberg’s confidence. You see it in the way it draws the inside/outside comparison
“as surely as…so certainly”
We are washed with water outside — that is absolutely clear.
Well, the point of Baptism is that the inner washing we receive is just as certain.
At first glance I see in John a stern call to repent. The Catechism teaches me to see that John is laying before me a great gift — the promise of the Gospel itself. This is the assurance of forgiveness that Baptism is intended to communicate.
How does it help you to remember your Baptism?
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