Sunday, December 17, 2017

Claiming Your Identity

PROPERS:          ADVENT 3, YEAR B   
TEXT:                 1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-24; JOHN 1:6-8, 19-28

ONE SENTENCE:        Finding our identity in Christ gives us a great sense of joy.

            “Who are you?”

            That was the question which the Levites posed to John the Baptist.  The Levites – the priestly caste among the Jewish people – wanted to know who this strange character was – an iconoclastic figure attracting thousands to the Jordan River to be baptized.

            His was an unusual baptism.  It was not a baptism of conversion.  It was not an entrance rite into the Jewish faith.  It was something different – a tertium quid. But, he knew all that.

            “Who are you?” they asked.  Why are you offering this baptism for the repentance of sins?  How are you able to do this?  By what authority are you baptizing?

            Another question: “Are you the one who is to come?” In other words, they are tempting him to see himself as the anointed one – the messiah.

            John was not to be tempted.  His mission was to help people know who they were – to cast off the layers of sinfulness and find their true identity in the God who created them.

            John the Baptist knew who he was.  And he knew the task before him. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’… I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

            In systems theory, John was self-differentiated.  He did not need someone else to tell him who he was.

            John knew himself to be the precursor of someone else – someone who would fulfill God’s mission.  John found meaning and purpose in that identity.

            I suppose you could say that he found joy in that identity. Joy is deeper, more abiding, and less transient than happiness.  For John – regardless of what life would deal him – there was joy.

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            Let me turn the question toward you:  Who are you?

            It’s not a complicated question.  Ponder it for a moment.

            On a simple level, I am asking about identity – not just your job, but your primary identity. Like John the Baptist, one’s sense of identity is much more basic.

            In your life, how have you lived… what have you determined as the source of your identity?  Is it as clear as John the Baptist?  How do you determine that identity?

            Many of us spend the bulk of our lives responding to external events to identify our purpose in life. John the Baptist did not need external events or other stimuli to determine who he was or what his mission would be.  He heard God’s call from deep within, and like Jesus years later, set his face like flint toward his divine purpose.

            Unlike John, it is probably not our purpose to cast away our homes, don a hair shirt and a leather girdle, and wander on a remote river bank proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God. Nor is our call similar to Jesus’ life – to be without home or family, wandering through small villages, preaching and healing.

            Our identity is much more simple than we might think.  It is right in front of us.

            What say ye?

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            It is as simple as a candle.

If you noticed, today we lit the third candle on the Advent wreath – the rose colored one.

            The candle is emblematic of our lessons today – especially the Epistle.  This Sunday – today – is known as Refreshment Sunday (for a respite in Advent).  But it is also known as Guadete Sunday – for the Latin word for rejoice.

            It comes from the second lesson – from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

            Paul, John the Baptist, and other saints and martyrs down through the centuries have found meaning, purpose, and joy in being able to answer the question, Who are you?

            They have answered not by identifying a job, position. wealth, or status in life.  They have been able to find joy – and thereby rejoice – by their identity as a child of God, blessed beyond measure, and called to a life in relationship to their Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

            Have you found such identity… such resonance… such joy in your call – first and foremost – to be a child of God?  Recognizing that as the grounding for identity – letting it seep through your being – can lead to unspeakable clarity and joy.

That is our call in this season:  To rejoice. To rejoice in the coming of God into this world. To rejoice in the love and grace that incarnation represents.  And to rejoice in our identity as children of God.

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