Harrowing Of Hell
December 11, 2014

Advent Evening Prayer Homily: Identity

Preacher: Kelly Moody

Good evening. I haven’t met all of you, my name is Kelly, and I wandered into Epiphany with my husband and 3 children about 2 years ago. What else should I tell you about who I am? Who am I is a tricky question. Here’s something about me: I love tricky questions, and the bible is full of tricky questions. Identity is the question in many pivotal conversations with God throughout the bible. “I AM WHO I AM,” God says to Moses. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Who are you Lord?” Paul asks, blinded on the road. And St. Francis is said to have asked repeatedly in prayer one night, “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”

Identity matters in all seasons, but it matters especially in this season, because we are expecting the birth of an ever-new identity for God: Immanuel, God with us. Immanuel is God’s most vulnerable self-revelation to us, and the point I hope to make tonight is that in order to identify with God as Immanuel, we too must become vulnerable about who we are. So I want to consider how we identify ourselves as we put ourselves in the way of the scripture we read tonight.

The prophecies in Isaiah are said to be directed to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel during a time of turmoil. Maybe you know what that feels like. In the face of fear, the people were employing a tactic that continues to be popular today: denial. They are described as follows in Isaiah 6: “Be ever hearing, but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” In spite of these deficits, Isaiah’s job as prophet is to remind them who they really are. They are not people of their own making, doomed to kingdoms of their own making. They are the people of God, and God is coming to be with them. That sounds like good news, and indeed, the passage of Isaiah we hear tonight is a song of salvation. “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not grow faint. It’s a song that will echo in the hearts of this same people years later when they hear someone else say, “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Those are the words of Immanuel, God with us, offering to yoke our identities to God’s own identity, and that sounds like good news.

But not everyone who heard Jesus say those words was a fan, at least not at first, and why is that? The words are so nice. What is it about the way Jesus identifies himself and the people with whom he identifies that is so threatening and unexpected, even offensive? Can you identify with that? If you can, you are in good company. Isaiah himself, upon meeting God in chapter 6, falls on his face and says, “Woe is me!” I’d say Joseph was offended too, initially, when his fiancé, Mary, told him what must have been an interesting story about her involvement with Immanuel. Think of the woman at the well, shocked beyond belief by Jesus initially. What about Nicodemus? What about the rich young ruler who went away sad? These people had some identity-shedding to do in order to coexist with Jesus. Actually, the only people who welcomed Jesus immediately were those who could not deny their need for what he had to offer. By nature of their circumstances, they were completely vulnerable, and they knew it. Can you identify with that?

I don’t know how you identify yourself, but if you are like me, Jesus’s offer of rest and an easy yoke sound sweet—for someone else. I pride myself on the bearing of heavy burdens, so it’s tempting to deny my need like the people of Judah, playing it safe in the kingdom of my own making, seeing but never perceiving the weariness in myself and my community that are crying out for renewed strength and rest.

But Advent is not a season of denial. It’s a season to be vulnerable. It’s a season to admit that we are weary, still in the dark about many things, and we don’t have to deny that, because in the kingdom of God, good things happen in the dark. It’s a season to lean into those dark places in ourselves and our communities, perceiving the pain that dwells there, hearing the cries for justice, and saying longingly, “Yes, come, Lord Jesus.” From that humble place, we can truly understand Jesus and remember once again why anxiously awaiting the birth of an ever-new identity of God with us really is good news to all people.

So, who are you? Does this sound like good news to you, or does it strike some other chord? Think about it. Ask some vulnerable questions in prayer: “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”