In between the unrelatable metaphor of “servant” (exploited labour) and the nicer but possibly still dangerous concept of “light” to the nations the first reading is telling us that God’s knowing of us, relationship and call go back to when we were in the womb, pre-existing any decisions, social influences and learning we had acquired. This to me is what grace means, that we do not earn or compete for positions in the household of God but we are already called before we even take a breath. To be called into being is to be called into the household, the body of God.Our vocation is not a skill-set or an honour it is our deep and true IDENTITY. What God knows us as, is what we were always meant to be- beyond questions of recognition of the church.
We know this about Jesus. We read about the annunciation and the visitation and the baby in a manger and we are already seeing God in the swell of Mary’s belly, the kick of joy from the baptist (already following his vocation in the womb), the first staggering steps holding a parents hands begin the thousand steps of a ministry. It’s true for each of us. We are already physically star-dust and emotionally God-stuff before we choose how to inhabit that identity.
The psalm agrees. Our deepest longing is for God to come and recognise this in us, the deep longing to be fulfilled in the vocation to follow Christ (as toddlers follow the admired older sibling), to be bigger than our littleness- to strive into the fullness of God. Which is our essence. We are the image of God (we and all of creation) and we are ourselves truly when we honour the possibilities for deep love and hope in ourselves and others. “here I am God, a better thing than any sort of commodified “thing” of religion, more meaningful than sacrifices and offerings- here am I and my deep longing for and delight in your Word, in my potential to actualise you” I love the unsilenced jubilation of the final verse of this psalm, I have for many years on taken it on as a sort of motto:
“I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.”
I did not restrain my lips…but of course I did when I was young because I was told that women were supposed to. Luckily the sinful state of silent obedience was unnatural for me and God’s constant egging on broke through it. Of course once we unsilence ourselves we do become responsible for what we say. God’s justice (and some translations add loving-kindness) are worthy topics for ranting.
The second reading is very short, only just long enough to introduce ideas of being “called”, being “sanctified” Part of our work is building a communion of the called and sanctified, that is recognising the Godness of each other and the vocations in others. It makes me a better person, renews my hope and sense of purpose to be recognised by other humans and it diminished and depressed me for years that the church could not and would not recognise me (but now for me “church” is whoever brings Christ to me and not associated with the hierarchy except sometimes by coincidence).
So then with the customary “Alleluia” we turn to the Word made flesh who chose and chooses to live with and in us. To Jesus the purest version of who we are supposed to be.John the Baptist as the established church is busy practising his ministry, at times having trouble being heard but having a power of sorts. What does he do when his younger cousin Jesus comes up filled with vocation? He not only moves over and makes room for the ministry of Jesus but he proclaims and assists that ministry. This is a part of the servant-leadership of priesthood that can be hard- sharing the spotlight, easing the ministry of others and the paths of people to the good news as proclaimed by someone who is not ME.
John did not “know Jesus” but being an open sort of a person he “saw the Spirit” alight on him. This is our challenge to remain open to the Spirit in each other and in nature. We need to look beyond ourselves and beyond our pre-determined ideas of God. In Scripture and beyond scripture. In the church however flawed it might be and beyond the church into the apparently sinful world and apparently dangerous nature and apparent heathens and queers and transgressives of all types. And even the hierarchy (Elizabeth Johnson does this well and shames me for so quickly dismissing the “church Fathers”).
John teaches us to look for and recognise God in our cousins and other young upstarts- but Jesus trusts John to work with him and comes to him openly too. The church is not one individual- it isn’t about superstars and heroes. We listen, affirm, work together. We see the Spirit in each other, we baptise each other and confirm the pre-existing touch of God in each life.
Our ministry is not judgement and separation. It is connection. It is love.