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Everlasting Mystery

2 Epiphany

Isa. 49:1-7Ps. 40:1-121 Cor. 1:1-9John 1:29-42

God addresses the nation as if speaking to a dear child: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isa. 49:3). Because this is divine speech, the voice may be traced back to the very same voice that said “Let there be light.” Israel’s election occurred before the calling of father Abram. “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away” (Isa. 49:1-2).

Not unlike the tendency of speech about Christ to migrate in the direction of Christ’s members, what is said of the nation may be said of the individual. And so the prophet hears a personal address. “And now the Lord says to me, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him and that Israel might be gathered to him” (Isa. 49:5). Yet more is at stake than the reconciliation of an elect people, for the whole world from end to end is elect and called. “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). Woven into this salvific calling is the mystery of human anguish. “I said I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity” (Isa. 49:4). The Redeemer of Israel speaks “to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers” (Isa. 49:7). Who is this suffering One called to save?

We think we know, but do we? Twice we hear John the Baptist say, “I myself did not know him” (John 1:31,33). The one who was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light, did not himself know the light. How could he? The wonder of Christ is beyond all knowing. If we are to know him at all, it will be in this way. Two of John’s disciples heard Jesus and began to follow him. “When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi,’ … “Where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day” (John 1:38-39). Just as the Spirit remained on Jesus, we are to remain with Jesus. Remaining with him, his Spirit spills over us and into us.

This is the “grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4). To remain with Jesus is to be “enriched in him” (1 Cor. 1:5). In him we are “not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor. 1:7). He will strengthen us to remain until the end (1 Cor. 1:8), As we are in him who is beyond all knowing, “we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Cor. 5:16). There is wonderment and confusion in this. Who am I? Who is this “I” that is asking? “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). “I am small and great, humble and exalted, mortal and immortal, earthly and heavenly. I must be buried with Christ and rise with Christ and be a co-heir of Christ and become a son of God and indeed God himself,” says Gregory Nazianzen (Oration 7). He speaks the truth, but I myself do not know it, for it is beyond all knowing.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 40:3. A new person sings a new song (Augustine).

Think About It
I do not fully know him, though I trust I am known by him.


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