When our celebration of Christmas ends, the work of Christmas begins. According to theologian and poet Howard Thurman, that work is:
“To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers [and sisters],
To make music in the heart.”
The work of Christmas is to take up our vocation, our calling, to do the work God began in Jesus at his baptism and continues in all of those who have been baptized in his name. Our vocation as Christians, our calling, is to be God’s incarnation today, and it’s a call for each of us. It may take a lifetime to learn what it means, and even then we won’t fully understand it. But here are a few things I’ve learned about it.
First, our call, our vocation in life, is not something we choose or deserve; it’s a pure gift from God. And like our DNA, our call from God is written into us from before our birth. What St. Paul understood about himself, that “it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born” (Gal. 1:15 NLT), is true of every one of us.
This call from God comes regardless of all the false steps and dumb mistakes we keep making. We can choose to ignore God’s call, but we can never run away from it. I know because I’ve tried. Three times I tried to leave parish ministry for other work. Once, I consulted a life coach; another time I took a battery of psychological and personality inventories; a third time, I tried to walk away by retiring. Every attempt led me to the unavoidable reality that I’m called to parish ministry.
Your story is no different from mine except in the details. What God said to Jeremiah, God says to every one of you, “before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5). You are set aside for a holy purpose, not to be a prophet like Jeremiah, perhaps, nor a church planter like Paul, nor a parish minister like me, but to play some role, your own role, in perfecting God’s creation. Your calling in life is a gift from God, part of your nature since before you were born. And one of our responsibilities as a congregation is to help you discover and live out your calling from God.
The second thing I’ve learned is that my calling is not about me; it’s about God. I used to get a catalog from Day-Timer with the message: It’s All About You. God never says that to me or to anyone, that it’s all about you. What God started in the baptism of Jesus and continues in us is not about me or you. It’s about God and about God’s will for the whole creation. The good news is that in Christ, God was restoring the whole creation to its original integrity, healing a broken world so it would serve again as an inclusive and enduring home for all people – all people. You and I have been called to serve as ambassadors of that good news (2 Cor. 5:19-20).
Once when I was making a job change that eventually led me to seminary, I learned that God’s call was not about my next job; it was about something I could not begin to see at the time but that God had in store for me. It wasn’t about me and my plans; it was about God and God’s will. And to fulfill God’s will, I had to commit to following where God called without knowing where it would lead or what it would cost.
The third thing I’ve learned is that my mistakes don’t invalidate God’s call. In the same way God’s call is in my nature, it’s also in my nature to mess it up from time to time. St. Paul tells us that everyone sins and falls short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We all make mistakes in doing what God has called us to do, and God uses us anyway. If you think you’ve messed up God’s will for your life, think again; you’re not powerful enough to cancel God’s will for you.
Chuck Colson knew about that. As an assistant to President Nixon, Colson was one of the most powerful men in the world. Then he got involved in the Watergate scandal and was sent to prison. That might have been the last we heard of him, but he became a follower of Christ and founded a prison ministry that today reaches into more than 150 countries and has blessed millions of people. Nothing Chuck Colson did wrong could invalidate God’s call for his life, and no mistake of ours is bad enough to invalidate God’s call for us.
I don’t know where God’s call is leading me today, any more than I could have known that my job change decades ago was going to lead me to seminary. We may never know the final purpose to which God calls us or how God is using us for that purpose. But clues to our purpose in life are found deep in the nature of who we are. And if we identify our best gifts and use them in the best way we know, we will be cooperating with God’s call, fulfilling God’s will for us, though we may know nothing of it.
“Live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy,” Paul urges. “For he called you into his Kingdom to share his glory” (1 Thess. 2:12 NLT). It’s a call that’s for me, and it’s a call that’s for you.