Christmas seems like so long ago now, and New Year’s resolutions have either taken hold for us, or we’re seriously considering waiting until next year to hit the “reset” button. In that sense, today’s readings are very appropriate for this time of the year.
Last week our readings focused on the Baptism of Jesus. Whenever we look at Jesus in the gospels, it prompts us to reflect on the implications for ourselves. In the case of the Baptism of Jesus, we are called to reflect on the implications of what it means for us to be baptized, and especially, when we are baptized in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In last week’s column, I briefly referred to the anointing which we all receive immediately following our baptism. The words that accompany the anointing are: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into this holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” In these brief words we affirm that we are anointed for purpose by God, that we are chosen to be part of God’s holy people, and God’s hope for us is that we will grow into the fullness of life as Jesus modeled for us.
In the language of the Baltimore Catechism it was said that God made us for purpose, specifically to “know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next.” Today’s first reading from Isaiah reminds us that we are not made simply to serve God, but rather God calls us to something far more. True service of God, true love in the life of the disciple, is made real in the concrete situations of our own lives. The prophet reminds us of God’s purpose: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” In a very real sense, our lives are not our own. Neither we, nor the lives we live, are accidents in the world. We are not some cosmic coincidental amalgam of molecules that constitute our corporeal reality. We are purposed by God for the good of the world. When we live into the purpose that is ours, we call that “living a life of holiness.” For different people it looks very different. So for some people it involves marriage, for others it involves pursuing the single life. For some it is lived out in our career, and for others it is lived out in holy seclusion. For some it is lived out in parenting, and for others it is lived out in vocational service. It is for each person to discern the grace of their particular calling, or purpose, in life.
Our anointing in baptism offers us some clues as to the foundations we share in developing a good sense of our purpose in life, at least from the perspective of the disciple of Jesus. First, it is important to acknowledge that God saves us, and makes us part of his holy people. We are made for relationship and not for isolation. We live into our holiness in the context of our relationships within the community, and not as isolated individuals. Second, it is worth observing that we are all anointed “priest, prophet and king.”
To be a “priest,” at its heart, is to be a person for others. A priest intercedes for those who need prayer, assistance or care. Intercession may be private, or very public. It might look like a fervent prayer made on our knees before God, or it might look like feeding someone who is desperately hungry. A priest is someone who finds ways in their daily life to make the love of God incarnate for others.
To be a “prophet” is to endeavor to see the world as God sees the world, and to both act and speak to help others see what we see. Sometimes that looks like reminding people by our words and example of what it is to be faithful in our relationships with God and with one another. Sometimes it looks like making a stand when we are confronted by shocking inhumanity or deliberate harm being imposed upon others.
To be a “king,” in the biblical sense at least, is to actively participate in faithful stewardship with and on behalf of God’s people. It involves participating in civic life, shaping the laws and life of the community. It includes a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable, and at times to directly engage with God on behalf of the people. It might look like being a good steward of the gifts and resources that are at our disposal, such that they become a blessing for God’s people and not just for ourselves alone. It might look like stepping up and taking responsibility for ourselves as well as for others, in order that God’s purpose might unfold in our world. Be light to the nations. Let God’s work in you be seen by those who yearn for hope in their lives.