[Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17]
O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Thee. Amen.
There’s an old joke that goes something like:
How do we know that John the Baptist baptized people by immersion?
Well, if he did it by sprinkling, we’d call him John the Methodist.
(A little ecumenical Church humor for you there…)
St. John the Baptist was, of course, neither a Baptist nor a Methodist—it would be about another millennium and a half before either of those things even existed—he was Jewish, just like Jesus.
He and Jesus were actually cousins, as you might recall. When Mary had just found out she was pregnant with Jesus, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. The child Elizabeth was carrying was John the Baptist.
St. Luke tells us in his Gospel that John leaped up in his mother’s womb in response to the sound of Mary’s voice. Even before they were born, John knew who Jesus was, and rejoiced at the opportunity to be in His presence.
Fast-forward thirty or so years—both boys are grown.
John has been living in the wilderness, preaching repentance to all who will hear him, proclaiming the imminent coming of the Messiah. He has a respectable following—a decent-sized group of folks who regard him as somewhat of a prophet—but he reminds them often that he’s just the opening act—the One who is coming is far greater than he is.
Jesus approaches John one day, asking to be baptized.
John’s first instinct is to refuse. He tells his cousin, “You should be the one baptizing me! Why are You asking me to baptize You?”
I can see where John is coming from here—he’s thinking, “Who am I, anyway, that You would choose me of all people?”
And I’m willing to bet that most of us have felt that way at some point—we’re pretty sure that God is calling us, but we can’t help thinking that maybe He’s dialed the wrong number.
But Jesus doesn’t let him get away with that—He insists on being baptized.
He tells John this is exactly what needs to happen—even though it may seem backwards for John to baptize Jesus, this is John’s role in “fulfilling all righteousness”—that is, bringing about God’s plan for the world.
This is John’s vocation, in other words.
The word “vocation” in this context is not simply a synonym for someone’s profession or job. That’s how we tend to use it today, but the root of “vocation” is actually the Latin word vocare, which means “to call”.
So, your vocation is the thing to which you are called by God. It is the role into which you have been cast, the part you were born to play in the great divine drama of salvation.
Just over a week ago, on Christmas Eve, we celebrated the Incarnation. God became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, was born into a body of flesh and bone, and lived His life on earth, preaching the Gospel to all whom He encountered. Through His death and resurrection, the redemption of mankind was made possible.
If you think about it, incarnation and vocation are two halves of the same story.
By becoming incarnate, God paved the way for all things to be made new.
By calling each of us to do His work, He paves the way for us to participate in that remaking.
We are all called to be God’s instruments in changing the world– in making His promise of redemption a reality in the here and now.
St. Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Carmelite nun and mystic from Spain, put it this way:
“Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world.”
Each of us is called to obey God, and to follow the example of Jesus—to work to ensure that the sick are healed, the poor are fed, the homeless are sheltered, the widows and orphans are looked after, and the oppressed are lifted up. And we are each called to do so in the way that God has prepared for us.
As St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “God shows no partiality.” No matter how unworthy or unqualified you might feel, no matter how unlikely of a candidate you think you are, God can work with that.
He’s certainly done it before. Throughout history, in every generation, we can find countless examples of God using the unqualified, the unworthy, and the unlikely to do the unbelievable.
When God calls us to participate in His work of redemption—to be His hands and feet in the world, to be instruments of His peace—it can be tempting to wonder, “Well, who am I, anyway? Who am I that You would choose me?”
Luckily, God is there to remind us exactly who we are:
“You are My beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”