The readings for the second Sunday in ordinary time can be used to remind us of the continuous power of Christmas spirit. They deliver three accounts of the calling to bring the gift of God’s grace to others. The called are Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist. Like all of us, each of them knows he’s unworthy.
Isaiah: “Woe is me, I am doomed!—for I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1)
Paul: “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1Corinthians 15:9)
John the Baptist: “…the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)
Nevertheless, Sunday’s readings illustrate the power of God’s calling, making us—who are also unworthy—necessary to bringing the healing power of His holiness to others.
In Isaiah’s case (IS 49:3, 5-6), The Lord of Hosts to which he is a witness, tells him he’s thinking too small when the prophet-to-be contemplates giving inspired lip service to those he lives among.
It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
That salvation involves a contagion of holiness among even the least susceptible to that virus. It starts with a personal calling, as Paul tells the Corinthians in Sunday’s second reading (1 COR 1:1-3):
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Holiness is achieved by spreading the Holy Spirit of Christ, and John the Baptist was therefore inspired to recognize that spirit when he saw it—and then help the rest of us bridge the gap between us and the grace it offers (JN 1:29-34):
… but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel. John testified further, saying …but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
All three accounts involve the Holy Spirit we are called to carry and deliver all year long—not just those few weeks every December. The calling to spread God’s love can come as simply as a letter from a long-lost relative. A great example comes from amidst all the showy seasonal songs and stories we’re exposed to every Christmastime. It’s a humble poem that Google classifies as “Religious Fiction,” but it’s as real as the fact that as we grow old, our need for God’s grace grows too. The poem is “A Cup of Christmas Tea,” and it’s about a young man called to be a prophet, delivering God’s grace to an old crippled aunt. In doing so, he saves both her and himself from abandonment. Like the prophets featured in this Sunday’s readings, he’s reluctant to be the messenger of that grace to other souls—until the door between them is opened.
She stood there pale and tiny, looking fragile as an egg.
I forced myself from staring at the brace that held her leg.
And though her thick bifocals
Seemed to crack and spread her eyes,
Their milky and refracted depths lit up with young surprise.
“Come in!” “Come in!” She laughed the words.
She took me by the hand
And all my fears dissolved away as if by her command.
We went inside and then before I knew how to react
Before my eyes and ears and nose
Was Christmas past . . . alive . . . intact!
Religious? More like Holy.
Fiction? Only if the prophets in you and me let it be.